Monday, April 28, 2014

Video: Confusion, anger in ferry disaster

Video: Search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane enters new phase

Officials say the chance of finding floating debris from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is highly unlikely, announce new phase of the search will focus on a far larger area of the Indian Ocean floor.

Analysis: Obama Not Alone in Having Doubts About Russia Sanctions

If President Obama seems skeptical of his own plan to stop Russia’s meddling in Ukraine with just sanctions, he may have good reason. He is in uncharted waters, trying to pressure such a large country into backing down without the threat of force.

ABC US News | ABC Business News “We don’t yet know if it’s going to work,” Obama told reporters ahead of today’s sanctions announcement.
Obama took the use of force off the table early on in the Ukraine conflict. Instead, he is relying solely on economic sanctions and his efforts to isolate Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Yet this will not be easy, largely due to Russia’s economic size and its close economic ties with Europe.
There are few examples in the modern era of sanctions without the threat of force being used to deter aggression, and none on this scale, according to Gary Hufbauer and Jeffrey Schott, experts at the Institute for International Economics who together have studied the use of sanctions throughout history. There are even fewer instances in which it has worked, they say.
“There is no direct precedent,” Hufbauer said in a phone interview. “I cannot remember one [case] where that’s been successful.”
"There has to be a substantial loss of wealth in Russia for this reasoning to work,” he said. “Russia much more engaged financially with the world compared with sanctioned countries in the past,” Hufbauer said. Schott, however, cautioned about comparing apples to oranges.
“You have to be very careful in using historical precedents,” Schott he said in a separate interview. “The overall economic and political context can change quite dramatically from case to case.”
Still, there is little in history to guide the Obama administration. In most recent prominent uses of sanctions, notably Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs and Iraq in the 1990s, the use of force, whether a credible threat or not, has always stood behind the sanctions as the next step should the sanctions fail. In the case of Russia, the White House is so far sanctioning individuals and entities in Putin’s inner circle, hoping to squeeze him to halting what the West says is a coordinated campaign to destabilize Ukraine. The White House has held off on what it calls sectoral sanctions, which could hit Russia’s critical energy, mining, and banking sectors. The reason the White House may not have yet imposed those tougher measures illustrates exactly what makes this so difficult.
Despite Obama dismissing Russia as a “regional power,” it nevertheless occupies a strategic position. Its $2.5 trillion economy is the seventh largest in the world. Its gas exports are critical for American allies in Europe (a major reason they have been reluctant to go along with tougher American proposals). American companies like ExxonMobil and Boeing have massive investments in Russia that could suffer under broad sanctions.
Russian cooperation has also been critical in negotiations with Iran and North Korea. Privately, some U.S. officials have worried that antagonizing Russia further could jeopardize that collaboration. Others experts, however, point out that globalization is a double-edged sword and is exactly why sanctions could work.
“Russia is extremely dependent on global finance and global trade,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics. He believes the White House should impose tougher sanctions now rather than ratchet them up slowly.
“We need shock and awe to change Putin’s behavior rather than incrementalism,” he said. Aslund dismissed any possible effect of the sanctions on the U.S. economy, calling the U.S.-Russia trade relationship “a blip” and said Europe could rely on its reserves for months if Russia retaliates by cutting off gas supplies. U.S. officials insist their policy is adequately calibrated to ratchet up pressure on Putin, saying they believe that while it may not change his behavior immediately, it will do so “over time.” Sanctions have become one of Obama’s preferred weapons. It’s easy to see their attraction. After over a decade of war, the American public is weary of conflict. Obama himself has displayed an aversion to the use of force. Sanctions offer a potentially powerful and bloodless alternative. In the 1990, targeted sanctions became more powerful as leaders harnessed the power of cutting off access to the American banking system. U.S. officials are quick to praise sanctions as one reason Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction in 2004. Both Hufbauer and Schott agree that for sanctions alone to work with a large interconnected country like Russia, Obama will have to get Europe on board.
“I think the only chance is that if the western powers can come up with a very strong package,” Hufbauer said. “With that threat, Putin might be deterred. But without that, chances are not very good.”
“If the U.S. and the EU can only increase this incremental approach to sanctions in naming individuals and the occasional company or bank, this is a policy of turning the screw very, very slowly and not applying much pressure,” Schott said. “If what is on the table turns out to be more of the same, the Russians may play for more time and can continue to destabilize Ukraine and absorb the costs.” Obama, Hufbauer said, appears to be reverting to President Woodrow Wilson’s view of sanctions. Wilson trumpeted the sanctions after World War I, saying if used properly “there will be no need for war.”
“The modern theory is that they are part of the force curve. They’re signaling that force is around the corner if sanctions don’t work,” he said. “Obama has really reverted to a Wilsonian view, that sanctions are an alternative to the use of force.”
The closest modern example may be that of Syria, where Obama has all but removed the threat of American force off the table. Sanctions there have so far have failed to stop President Bashar al-Assad’s forces from attacking.

Video:Philippines and US sign defence pact

Video: Blasts fierce fighting in Donetsk as pro- & anti-Kiev demos clash

Pakistan: Power suspended to Islamabad’s traffic signals, street lights
Following non-payment of dues, the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco) on Monday suspended the power supply to street lights and traffic signals across the capital city.
The power company has suspended electricity to 17 public sector and semi-government departments, including headquarter of the Capital Development Authority (CDA). The film censor board and office of the anti-narcotics force were also among the departments whose power supply was suspended. With the suspension of power to the city’s traffic signals, the federal capital’s traffic wardens would have to work a lot harder to maintain the flow of traffic. The IESCO had been sending notices to these departments for some time over non-payment of dues.

Pakistan: Islamabad police detain rights activist during protest

Police fired teargas shells and resorted to baton-charge to break up a protest staged by families of missing persons in Islamabad on Monday. The protest demonstration was held at D-Chowk. Amina Janjua, chairperson of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, led the demonstration and called for the release of their missing loved ones. However, police beat up the demonstrators as they tried to march toward Red Zone. Janjua and some other protestors were detained by the police. Female constables dragged and thrashed Janjua on the street before shifting her to a police station. Awami Muslim League (AML) head Sheikh Rasheed denounced the police crackdown, saying it was not done even during dictatorial rules.

Pakistan: Amina Janjua, other relatives of missing persons, baton charged by police

Police today resorted to brute force on Amina Masood Janjua and other relatives of missing persons holding a protest demonstration at D-Chowk in the Federal Capital city, wounding several people.
According to media reports, the protesters were attempting to approach the Parliament house in Islamabad's Red Zone area. Police resorted to baton-charging and aerial firing and also fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators, as a result of which several persons fell unconscious. The resultant clash also left six police personnel, including two women and four men were wounded. Human Rights activist and campaigner on the missing persons issue, Amna Masood Janjua was also arrested by police personnel. Police tried to confiscate the cameras and other equipment, of media teams trying to cover the incident.
Television channels aired footage of several journalists who were wounded and had their equipment damaged due to the use of force by security personnel. The police began to target the media persons when they gathered around chairperson Defence of Human Rights Amina Janjua, to grab footage of police personnel manhandling and forcing the human rights campaigner into a vehicle. At least three media persons were wounded in the police action. Moreover, several activists and media personnel were also taken into custody by law enforcers.

Islamabad police baton charge, tear gas missing persons protest

Police in the federal capital resorted to baton-charge and tear gassing protestors staging a demonstration over the missing persons issue. Police detained several protestors including Defence of Human Rights Pakistan Chairperson, Amna Masood Janjua and tried to stop the media from covering the event.
Amna Janjua Arrested by GeoNews The police manhandled Amna Janjua and took her into custody during the protest which was being held at D-Chowk in Islamabad. Footage broadcast on Geo News showed Islamabad women police personnel punching Amna Masood Janjua several times and dragging her to the police vehicle. The demonstrators including women and children wanted to march towards the Parliament House, however, police stopped them at D-Chowk.

China: The U.S. and Japan are playing with fire in Asia

The U.S.-Japan alliance targeted at China has been strengthened during US President Barack Obama's visit to Japan.
In a written interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, Obama stated that the so-called "Senkakus" have been historically administered by Japan and fall under Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty. "I commend Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to strengthen Japan's defense forces and to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defense." This is the first time that an incumbent US president has made such statements.
Obama added that US engagement with China "does not and will not be at the expense of Japan or any other ally". He also requested Japan's Self-Defense Forces "do more within the framework of our alliance". Undoubtedly, the US is easing limits on Japan so that it can play a bigger role in constraining China, especially military roles.
A related issue is that Japan's Internal Affairs and Communications Minister and about 150 Japanese lawmakers visited the Yasukuni war Shrine just a day before Obama's visit. As we know, the US had expressed "disappointment" over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Yasukuni shrine visit last December. The "disappointment" came after condemnations from China and South Korea, which damaged the trilateral relationship between the US, Japan and South Korea.
It is now clear that the American "disappointment" was not prompted by any kind of genuine concern for this Japanese historical revisionism. The danger of this development in US-Japan relations lies in the possiblity of America's encouragement of Japan's rightward political shift in an effort to constrain China's development.
America's pursuit of its own private interests at the expense of postwar peace is encouraging Japan's excesses. Is America not concerned about bringing troubles on itself? Of course not. Since the end of World War II, the US has maintained a military occupation of Japan, guaranteeing US control over the country. The incitement of Japanese actions against China is intended to constrain China and at the same time keep Japan in check, thus increasing its reliance on the US.
The US and Japan do have a divergence of views, but not on the Yasukuni Shrine visit nor on the rightward political shift. The issue concerns Japan's pursuit of independence. The Japanese government lobbied hard to get the White House to agree on an official state visit, but Obama refused to stay at the guesthouse during his visit, which is the standard practice during state visits to Japan. Japan knows that if it does not perform in constraining China, it will gain no prestige with the America. Japan remains an American puppet. The US and Japan are playing with fire in Asia. But the story is much more complicated, given China's situation.
When asked if the U.S. would really use military force if the Chinese took action on the Diaoyu Islands. Mr. Obama said that the U.S.-Japan treaty was established before he was born, and is not subject to his interpretation. But he also said it would be a "profound mistake" to see continued escalation around this issue.
These words reflect Obama's unease. As he said, the interests of the two countries are closely intertwined. China is not only a major power in Asia, but also in the world as a whole.
The US and Japan, both with profound interests in the Asia-Pacific region, will benefit nothing from stirring up trouble here.

U.S. not trying to contain China: Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama said here on Monday that Washington was not trying to "contain" China when it signed a new military pact with the Philippines.
The United States and the Philippines signed on Monday a 10- year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement to expand the rotational presence of American forces in the country.
"Our goal is not to counter China, our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected," Obama told a joint press briefing with Philippine president Benigno Aquino III in Malacanang, the presidential palace.
He said the U.S. does not take sides on South China Sea dispute.
Obama said, however, that the U.S. supports Aquino's approach to resolve its dispute with China through international arbitration.
"Our message to China consistently in a whole range of issues is, we want to partner with you in upholding international law," he said.
Obama said the U.S. welcomes China's "peaceful rise", adding that China's growth bodes well for Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world.
He noted that the U.S. and China have a "constructive relationship" and that the two countries see eye to eye on most international issues.
Obama arrived in Manila Monday on a two-day state visit to the Philippines, the last leg of his four-nation Asia trip which also took him to Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
Obama's trip to the four Asian countries is part of Washington' s efforts to reassure allies of U.S. pivot to Asia-Pacific strategy.

US imposes sanctions on seven Russian officials, 17 companies
US imposes sanctions on seven Russian government officials and 17 companies due to Ukraine's crisis, White House states, Reuters reports. Read more:

Arkansas, Oklahoma tornadoes kill at least 17

Tornadoes ripped through the south-central United States on Sunday, killing at least 17 people in Arkansas and Oklahoma and wiping out entire neighborhoods, authorities said as rescue workers searched in darkness for survivors. Winds ripped houses off their foundations and flipped cars on top of the rubble in the small town of Vilonia in central Arkansas' Faulkner county, one of the worst-hit communities, television pictures showed.
Arkansas authorities said at least 10 people had died in Faulkner and six more across the state--the first reported fatalities of this year's tornado season. Another person was killed in neighboring Oklahoma, said the sheriff's department. Searchers were continuing to dig through rubble in Vilonia and a spokesman for the County Sheriff's office said there was a "mass casualty situation."
"An entire neighborhood of 50 or so homes has been destroyed. Many homes are completely gone except the foundation ... There is more devastation like this in other parts of Arkansas," state congressman Tim Griffin told Reuters.
Cable television's Weather Channel showed videotape of mangled, overturned cars, some with people still inside, lining miles of Interstate 40 near Mayflower, 22 miles northwest of state capital Little Rock.
Motorists searched crushed vehicles for victims while others stood dazed on the road. Authorities closed the route.
A tornado hit the east side of Mayflower at around 7.30 pm, killing at least one person, tearing up trees and bringing down power lines, making it difficult for the emergency services to find stricken areas in the dark, officials there said.
"It's extremely hazardous here right now," said Will Elder, an alderman in the city. "The power lines are down, roads are blocked, and they will have to proceed with caution."
The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to help out in the state.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said on its website 10 deaths had been reported in Faulkner, five in Pulaski county and one in White county.
At least one other person was killed in a tornado in the small town of Quapaw, in the northeast corner of neighboring Oklahoma, according to Ottawa County Sheriff's Department spokesman Derek Derwin.
That twister was spotted in the town 200 miles northeast of Oklahoma City at about 5:45 p.m., according to the weather service.
Media and the National Weather Service reported that two people were killed. Overnight tornado watches and warnings were announced in several parts of Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.

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Afghanistan: An election that could really matter

By Wahab Raofi
“Elections don't matter, institutions do,” wrote Robert Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
When I read his words, I felt they almost fit the current situation in my native Afghanistan. Elections do matter, at least a little, but it’s true that institutions matter much more. This month’s free election in Afghanistan will attest to that.
Despite socio-economic obstacles – and uncertainty over the fate of an American military presence beyond 2014 – Afghans braved the Taliban by casting their votes, sending a clear message that intimidation would not deter them from exercising their rights. This was a milestone political victory in the long history of this multi-ethnic, tribe-fractured nation. Somehow the transfer of power rose above violence.
What made this election different from the previous three elections was that it was not just rejecting the Taliban’s intimidation or voting for or against any particular individual. It was rather a call to end the corruption and establish accountability. It was about creating more reliable institutions.
Since 2001, President Hamid Karzai struggled with unfriendly neighbors and fought with the Taliban insurgency, which sapped most of his administration’s energy, leaving little time to rebuild the much-needed institutions that were shattered during three decades of war.
To be fair, Karzai deserves credit for re-establishing the parliament, drafting a new constitution and building the Afghan national Army and police. However, he could have done much more had he not been so focused on amassing power for himself.
Karzai’s grip on every small function of government was so extreme that every civil servant from governors to district chiefs had to secure his signature. The monopoly of the executive branch has weakened the authority of parliament and judicial branch, leaving Afghanistan with just a shell of democracy.
The central planning system deprived rural areas of aid, which was dispensed only via the ink of bureaucrats in Kabul.
This lack of accountability led to a government engine greased by corruption and illicit underground economic activity. Bribery, nepotism and expediency became the accepted form of getting things done. Government posts such as customs, police chiefs and other positions of power were reportedly sold to the highest bidder, in secrecy, to those with tribal, regional or personal loyalties.
After the rout of the Taliban in 2001, the diaspora returned, promising to establish a Western-style democracy, with leaders in the North Alliance vowing a real Islamic state (the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan). They not only failed on their promises, but they adapted themselves to the demands of a dysfunctional and corrupt system.
It wasn’t just elected officials who escaped the arm of law. In a highly publicized case, Karzai’s brother, Mahmood, was alleged to have defrauded the Kabul Bank (a U.S.-taxpayer-funded institution) of millions of dollars. But no charges were filed against him.
Terrorists and criminals took advantage of this feeble justice system. Those in the Taliban who were caught and charged with crimes against Afghan security forces or innocent civilians were released without charges or fines. As a result, citizens lost trust in their system and sought justice outside the government, especially in rural areas, where tribal justice was “fast, fair and enforced.”
The citizen response to this has been mute for two reasons: they simply cannot do anything about it and corruption pays. If they have the opportunity, they will do the same thing.
When someone sees his neighbor erect a multi-story building after he was appointed to a position in government, he knows the money came for an illicit source. Does he report him? No. He is more likely to try to find a connection to get himself a similar position.
So my best advice for the new president is to find a good mentor. I see no one better qualified than Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, who successfully built institutions that laid the foundations for commerce, justice, law and order. He earned the trust of his citizens and as well as the international community.
Security and economic progress are important elements for enduring peace; however, without strong institutions to guard these elements, all they will build are castles of sand.

Abdullah must become a symbol of Afghan unity

Florian Weigand
Abdullah remains a favorite in urban areas and in the Persian-speaking north of the country. But should he win the runoff election, he has the potential to divide the country, says DW's Florian Weigand.
Seldom in the recent history of Afghanistan has a non-Pashtun made it to the top state ranks. Luck, it seems, has not been with them; the conservative King Habibullah, for example, who was lampooned as the "son of a water carrier," was only in power for less than a year at the end of the 1920s before he was executed. And Burhanuddin Rabbani was Afghan president when the country became engulfed by a civil war after the retreat of Soviet forces. No wonder, then, that so many Afghans think only Pashtuns can reliably run the country.
Afghanistan is made up of a mosaic of different ethnicities. Among them, Pashtuns make up the majority in government, and are dominant in the south - while in the north of the country, the majority is made up of Persian-speaking Tajiks. Wouldn't it be nice if Abdullah Abdullah - a person who is open to the West, as well as being a member of the country's second-largest ethnic group - could be elected president, especially seeing how he grew up in a mixed Pashtun-Tajik household? He would be a democratically elected representative of integration - not because of his family tree, but because of his policies and personality. Afghanistan has a long and deep-rooted history of storytelling. But often, reality goes by different rules. Ethnic alliances
The specter of unavoidable ethnic identity is as alive now as ever before. Despite his mixed family background, Abdullah - who won 44.9 percent of the total vote - is seen as a Tajik from the north by most. His entire political biography has been characterized by this. He is the most important still-living politician of the so-called Northern Alliance, which fought against the Taliban. According to the independent election commission, Abdullah received more than 80 percent of votes in some parts of the country's north.
In certain purely Pashtun areas in the south and east, however, he received barely more than 3 percent. The hope that Afghans would cast their votes based on a candidate's policies only came to fruition in the larger cities. Abdullah so far has not been able to convince most rural Pashtuns.
The sum of all votes that went to ethnic other Pashtun candidates in the first round of polls was more than the number of votes that went to Abdullah. Ashraf Ghani, who won 31.5 percent of the total vote, will seek to gain all Pashtun votes for himself in the runoff election. And Abdullah is aware of this; reports have started emerging that he has initiated talks for an alliance with the number-three candidate, the Pashtun Salmai Rassul, who received 11.5 percent of the vote.
Win over all
Should Abdullah come out on top in the second round of voting, he would be well-advised to make Pashtuns feel at home. Abdullah must fight against the impression many Afghans have that he only represents the north of the country and the large cities. In urban areas such as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, Pashtuns and Tajiks have lived next door to each other, married each other and had a unique Afghan identity for generations.
Rich in natural gas and with a relatively stable security situation, the north is the nation's potential economic motor. But the south must not be allowed to become the country's Taliban-tainted reject.
That would have fatal consequences for the country's foreign policy, and thus for the stability of the entire region. In neighboring Pakistan, Abdullah does not enjoy the best reputation, and he looks to the politics of Islamabad with a critical eye as well. Pakistan could become tempted to use resentments against Abdullah to its advantage - for influence in Afghanistan. It would be fatal if the West were to turn a blind eye to this. Only a government in Kabul that is supported by the majority of Afghans in the north as well as in the south, and whose standing is recognized in the region, would be able to create stability that would allow the West to end its ISAF deployment at the end of the year with a lighter heart.

Afghan Election Front-Runners Allege Fraud

The two leading candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election are alleging ballot fraud. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani are expected to compete in a runoff after preliminary results from the April 5 election showed neither gained the 50 percent needed for a first-round victory. Final official results are still two weeks away. But Abdullah on April 27 alleged there was widespread fraud in the vote and insisted he won the first round outright. Ghani also alleged fraud, saying there was "no clear winner" in the first round. Preliminary results released on April 26 showed Abdullah with 44.9 percent of the first-round vote and Ghani at 31.5 percent, with Zalmai Rasul a distant second at 11.5 percent. Abdullah quit the race, alleging fraud, after finishing second to incumbent President Hamid Karzai in the first round of the country's 2009 presidential election. The runoff is expected sometime after May 28. The winner will succeed outgoing President Hamid Karzai in the first democratic transition of power in Afghanistan.

Pakistan violates ceasefire again, second in 4 days

Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire on Monday for the second time in four days on Indian posts along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir's Rajouri district, an army spokesperson said. Indian Army troops guarding the borderline retaliated and exchanges between the two sides were going till last reports came in. "Pakistani troops resorted to small arms and automatic weapons firing on Indian posts along the LoC in Bhimber Gali in Rajouri district from 0515 hours," a defence spokesperson said. Troops guarding the borderline fired back resulting in intermittent exchanges of fire, he said, adding, "firing exchanges are still going on". There was no loss of life or injury to anyone on this side of the LoC, the spokesperson said, adding that no damage was caused in the firing. There were inputs that militants were trying to infiltrate to this side and the firing was "probably a ploy to ensure infiltration of terrorist under the cover of firing". This is the second ceasefire violation in the past four days along the LoC. On April 25, Pakistani troops had violated the ceasefire by firing with small arms and mortars on Indian posts in Doda battalion areas along the LoC in Poonch district.

Exit occupied areas in India, US told Pak during Kargil war
"India is hopping mad. Please get out of the places you have occupied," was the American message to Pakistan in the wake of the Kargil War in 1999, the country's then envoy to the US, Riaz Khokhar said on Sunday.
Almost 15 years after Pakistani troops intruded across the line of control sparking the border conflict , the issue came up for discussion at the Islamabad literature festival.
The speakers at the discussion, including former Pakistani foreign secretaries Khokhar and Tariq Osman Hyder, and journalist Nasim Zehra had an open and frank talk about different aspects of the conflict.
All the three speakers agreed that the war was an "avoidable venture".
"It was an avoidable venture. I was called by senior (US) state department officials and told to get out of the areas that we had occupied," he said. He said the biggest failure of Pakistan was that it was not able to develop a credible narrative. "I think we were seen as an irresponsible country," he said.

Pakistan: Load Shedding: ‘Where are the megawatts?’
“Summer heat has not peaked yet and there is load shedding of 6 to 12 hours…an ominous sign of what summer will be like,” PPP Punjab president Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo said in a statement on Friday. He said the government was handing out contracts for power generation plants while maintaining the energy crisis would not be controlled for another three years. He called on the government to take prompt measures to cope with the “alarming situation.”

At last, a ray of hope for Afghanistan

Michael Semple
Whatever the final outcome, voters in Afghanistan's presidential election have delivered a powerful mandate Provisional results from the first round of Afghanistan's presidential election look as if they will stand the test of tortuous fraud checks and complaint processes. Decisive margins make them robust. Although Abdullah Abdullah, who emerged in the lead, has raised serious concerns about fraud, the first round should leave him facing Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, in a run-off. B
oth Abdullah, a veteran of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and Ghani say they are ready for the second round, as electoral law requires. But a winner-takes-all contest is not the only way this contest could end. Abdullah set a precedent in 2009 by pulling out of the second round. That allowed Hamid Karzai to be declared elected unopposed. This time, many Afghans expect a deal between the two leading candidates to form a unity government and avoid a second round. This would entail Abdullah and his running mates taking the presidential and vice presidential slots but drawing on the other campaign teams to form the new administration.
There are powerful reasons why a hybrid administration might be best for Afghanistan. It would be a case of collectively quitting while you are ahead. The Taliban, after failing to disrupt the first round are delighted to get a replay in which they can inflict more damage. Countless election workers and security personnel will pay with their lives if Abdullah and Ghani fail to reach a deal.
The purpose of the election was to allow Afghans to choose a legitimate successor to Karzai. If Ghani endorses Abdullah, together they can claim the support of 75% of voters, far more than any sole candidate will ever obtain. There is a pluralism argument also. Afghanistan has four main ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. Both candidates deserve credit for campaigning in all regions, seeking cross-community support and articulating reform programmes. But on polling day, broadly speaking, Tajiks and Hazaras backed Abdullah and Pashtuns and Uzbeks backed Ghani. A run-off would become more divisively ethnicised, with Ghani obliged to rally the Pashtuns, undermining the idea of an inclusive administration with which all Afghans can identify.
Either candidate has the right to insist on the run-off – Ghani because he believes he can win or Abdullah to avoid coalition politics. Abdullah would start favourite. On a similar turnout he would need under 400,000 extra votes, attainable by attracting the supporters of either the number three or number four candidates. Ghani would need one million extra votes, equivalent to the total of both numbers three and four. For either of them and for the country as a whole, round two is a gamble.
Whether the election ends with a deal or after a run off, the six million votes cast this month constitute a powerful mandate. The voters' message contrasts with the bigotry underpinning recent violence. All major comunities of the country want to be represented in the Kabul-based political system but want it cleaned up and reformed. They rejected the insurgents' authoritarian alternative and showed little interest in those hardline Islamists who stood. They want to keep Afghanistan's link to the west and an end to baiting its allies.
This calls for significant changes in how the country is run. But there will be tough bargaining within the Afghan elite before we see who gets to exercise the mandate. And the five British soldiers' deaths in Kandahar over the weekend are a reminder of the high cost of the security umbrella which that elite has required to get this far.

NATO troops must stay in Afghanistan a while longer, say Afghans in India

As the countdown for the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan has begun, scores of Afghans in Delhi maintain that the forces should stay put in their war-torn country “to stop the resurgence of the Taliban”.
Ara Aziz, 24, a young teacher from Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif is in Delhi for her ailing mother’s medical treatment. She believes NATO forces need to stay back in her country for a while longer. “I guess no sensible person in Afghanistan would want the Taliban to swing back into action after NATO’s departure,” says Aziz. “And yes, there are growing fears that women rights might be trampled once again after NATO’s exit.”
Having lunch at Kabul Restaurant in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar with her husband and two children, Behrukh Hamid, a 45-year-old homemaker from Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, recalls with rapt clarity how her youthful days became confined to the four walls of her home under the Taliban regime. “It was a miserable, frustrating period of my life, and for other women in Afghanistan,” she says. “But once the NATO troops arrived, things started changing. But now, when they are departing from our country, it feels women would be immediately hit.”
The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan. The majority of the Taliban comprises Afghan Pashtun tribesmen who are influenced by Deobandi fundamentalism (of all of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are the largest, followed by the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks and others). The movement spread throughout Afghanistan and formed the government, ruling as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from September 1996 until December 2001, with Kandahar as the capital. While in power, it enforced its strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Under Taliban rule in the later part of the 20th century, violence against women in Afghanistan reportedly peaked. In fact, the Taliban were condemned internationally for their violent treatment of women. Things began gradually improving only in the last ten years after President Hamid Karzai’s administration took over the country.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, the Taliban was overthrown by the American-led invasion of Afghanistan. Later, it regrouped as an insurgent movement to fight the American-backed Karzai administration and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The Taliban have been accused of using terrorism as a specific tactic to further their ideological and political goals. According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were responsible for 75% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2010, 80% in 2011, and 80% again in 2012.
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama told the Pentagon that the US will not leave behind any troops in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of forces by the end of 2014. As the deadline approaches fast, scores of Afghans believe their country will once again face deprivation, discrimination and destruction.
Mohammad Fahran, 29, who is pursuing post-graduation in political science in Delhi, fears that withdrawal of NATO forces would kick the geo-politics of his country back to square one. “I think the departure of NATO forces will undo all the peace-keeping work in Afghanistan,” says Fahran, who hails from Afghanistan’s Herat area. “And also, the territory would be again thrown open for a Taliban comeback. They have already re-emerged in southern Afghanistan.”
This fear is shared by some American policymakers, who are afraid the NATO exit from Afghanistan could not only ease the way for a Taliban resurgence, but also a regrouping of the al-Qaeda, whose presence in Afghanistan the 12-year NATO-led war was intended to eliminate.
Many Afghans are disappointed with the civilian government headed by President Hamid Karzai, who had long supported the scheduled withdrawal of NATO combat troops, saying Afghan forces were capable of taking responsibility for the fight against Taliban insurgents.
“But the Taliban have already made it quite clear that peace was made a casualty by the Afghan government itself,” says Farzad Jamal, 35, a regular visitor to Kabul Restaurant. “I have my fingers crossed over the future course of action in my country under Karzai’s government.”
Karzai, who is stepping down after 12 years in power, is now likely to pave way for Abdullah Abdullah, who is his long time opponent. Abdullah has emerged the clear front-runner in the recently held presidential election in Afghanistan.
Many Afghans have pinned their hopes on Abdullah – an ardent supporter of the United States, to stop the resurgence of the Taliban in their country by making some space available for NATO. “I hope he does that,” says Jamal.


At least 127 people died and hundreds of villagers were displaced after flash floods ravaged northern Afghanistan, disaster authorities said Sunday. The deputy governor of Afghanistan's northern Jowzjan province told that as a result of the flood at least 66 people had died, 36 are missing and another 15,000 had been displaced. Initial reports indicate that Jowzjan is the worst affected province in the region. Heavy rainfall has also caused widespread damage to homes and agriculture since late Thursday. The affected Afghan populations are in need of clean drinking water, medical supplies, food, and emergency shelter, the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency said.

Blast Inside Deobandi Seminary; 3 Students Killed In Karachi
At least three students of a Deobandi seminary were reportedly killed and several injured in an explosion that took place in a Deobandi Madarsah in Karachi’s SITE area on Monday, The Shia Post reported. The explosion took place near a seminary in SITE’s Frontier Colony area, during the preparation of a suicide attack, sources said, adding that the victims included thee child students from the madressah. Hospital sources said that many of the victims brought in were children aged between 8-14 years. A police official told the media that there were between 15 and 20 children present in the madrassah at the time of the explosion. Rescue sources said the casualties were shifted to Abbasi Shaheed and Civil hospital for medical treatment. According to Police official, ASP Sajid, the bomb was in the hands of a madarsah student, he also added, that blast took place in side a room of madarsah, and it was not an external attack.

Pakistan: Minister in denial about minorities’ persecution

Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf Friday rejected the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) Report-2013, saying the minorities were absolutely safe and enjoying equal constitutional rights in the country.
Reacting to the report, he said that the HRCP should avoid distorting facts. “The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan ensures equal rights to minorities and the government is bound to fulfill its constitutional responsibility,” he added.
He said the government was taking maximum measures to protect the rights of minorities and all possible steps were being taken to safeguard their sacred places across the country.
“The terrorists are targeting the nation and there is no distinction of hitting minorities only,” he said, reminding that various terrorist activities had taken place in mosques, shrines and even religious gathering of Muslims also.
The government has taken a number of steps to protect minority rights, including the establishment of Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, special quota in government jobs, enhanced seats of minorities in parliament, celebration of religious days of minorities officially in country.

Pakistan: Who died and made the ISI queen?

Perhaps everything that could be said on the saga following the shooting of journalist and anchorperson Hamid Mir, has been said already. From the vilest and most base to the loftiest and most principled positions have already been taken and articulated.
Today I write not to say anything new, but to stand up and be counted – to endorse and to add to those voices I believe to be correct. For it is important that each one of us who can make their voice heard, do so to resist the onslaught on hard won freedoms, albeit not perfect, in this country. I particularly found veteran journalist Abbas Nasir’s comprehensive judgment on the issue to be one entirely in sync with mine.
Repugnant to the core have been the reactions of the Express and ARY groups – one having labelled Mr. Imtiaz Alam an Indian/ RAW agent, and the other Mr. Hamid Mir a traitor. The less said about the cynical, non-journalistic behavior of both, the better. The media groups and channels that have opted to tread the opportunistic path to attack the Geo/ Jang group, seem to have learnt nothing from the past. Or perhaps they have unshakeable trust in themselves never ever to make the mistake of not siding with the military or its intelligence agencies. But people can change over time, and so can organisations. Many of us, including myself, defending the right of Geo channel’s license not to be cancelled or the circulation of its newspapers not to be interfered with, have been at odds with its policies on several occasions. I have abhorred not only stances taken by other journalists within this organization, but also many stances taken by Hamid Mir in the past. And I have no compunction or fear in stating that I suspected those stances on national security, India, jihad and the glory of Islam to be representative of the ‘strategic’ thinking prevalent in the armed forces and ISI at the time. And though Geo channel’s handling of the Mir family’s allegations on the day of the attack transgressed reporting ethics in no small way, it was hardly the first blot on reporting or journalistic ethics. Nor has Geo been alone in transgressing ethics in the past. Yet, never was such action threatened as that done by the defense ministry (read the military and ISI) when militants and extremists were given platforms for their hateful ideology by various news channels; never was Geo targeted for Amir Liaqat’s hate mongering against the Ahmadis; never was Dunya targeted for Arshad Sharif’s incitement to violence and smear campaigns against NGOs and the Art of Living Center; never was any channel even reprimanded by any authority civilian or military for showing rape victims’ faces; never was any channel targeted thus for hounding, ridiculing and invading the privacy of trans-people, gays, prostitutes or couples dating in parks by the likes of Maya Khan and Maria Zulfiqar Khan.
The electronic media has undoubtedly been utterly obnoxious in some of its transmissions. And it should have been penalized in every instance – PEMRA should have fined the media houses in transparent proceedings where ever private channels were found violating human rights and the code of journalistic ethics. But no. Everyone and their mother seems to have swung into action when the matter of allegations against the ISI was treated unethically and unjustifiably. So how is the ISI’s mistreatment more serious than that of raped children, prostitutes, gays, the Ahmadi or the Shia? Who died and made the ISI queen?
It appears as if the powerful military has found a great opportunity to teach lessons to the media in the Geo saga: you’re either with us or against us. And tobacco and gold sellers have fallen in line. They do not realize, the ISI burns everyone it sleeps with - eventually. Look at the Taliban. Look at Saleem Shahzad. Declan Walsh writes in the New York Times, “Few doubt the ISI, which has a dismal record of attacks on the press, is capable of such an attack. The spy agency’s media cell, infamous among journalists, is known to bribe select journalists with money, vehicles or other inducements. Critical reporters have been subjected to harassment, abduction and torture. In May 2011 the body of an investigative reporter, Saleem Shahzad, was found in a canal south of Islamabad after he was abducted by presumed ISI agents.” Saleem Shahzad was suspected by many to be close to the ISI, but expended when his reportage didn’t quite suit the agency.
Look at Hamid Mir himself. Once again, I find it sufficient to quote Declan, “The turmoil has partly obscured the plight of Mr. Mir, who has an ambiguous history with the ISI. He shot to prominence after interviewing Osama bin Laden in 1998, and was initially seen as sympathetic to the pro-jihadi agenda of the Pakistani military and the ISI. But in recent years he has championed the cause of Baluch nationalists, angering the army, and highlighted human rights abuses during military operations.”
At the end of the day, I will support the right of many a time obnoxious Geo channel’s freedom of speech; of six times shot Mir’s right to make allegations against whom he will. If PEMRA is to conduct an inquiry into Geo’s unethical reportage in the Mir vs ISI story, it must take up all other transgressions by all channels, and impose appropriate fines. But speech must not be smothered simply because this time the ISI got some of its own medicine to taste.

Pakistan: Traitors and national interest

Babar Sattar
“WE cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein had argued. The ruckus kicked up by indignant patriots after the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir proves just that.
Outdated notions of national security and national interest and an unflinching commitment to entrench them oppressively are alive and well and dutifully being served by servile disciples across our state and society. Will witch-hunts in the name of national security make Pakistan a stronger state?
The attack on Hamid Mir, Geo’s response to the attack, the ISI establishment’s response to Geo coverage, and the acute polarisation caused as a consequence of this back and forth is proof of our degeneration into an intolerant lynch mob. We are unable to distinguish between suspicion and conviction, between fair reporting and slander. We have no patience for accountability and due process. Anyone questioning our security state’s version of national interest is a traitor who must be banished.
At least three aspects of the Hamid Mir story deserve attention. One, what happened to Mir and continuing attacks on journalists that make Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for journalists. Two, how Geo treated Amir Mir’s accusation against the DG ISI as a key suspect in the attack against Mir. Three, the vilification campaign launched against Geo and Hamid Mir to brand them traitors and ban them.
Freedom of speech is not freedom to slander or malign. The right to hold and express an opinion needs to be protected. But presenting opinion as fact is a disservice to journalism. Geo crossed a red line in reporting Amir Mir’s accusation against the DG ISI not because it aired the accusation, but because the manner in which it did amounted to running a media trial, and not just indicting but condemning the DG ISI in the public eye. And this wasn’t the first time.
Components of the Jang-Geo group ran a vile campaign against Asma Jahangir on the eve of her election as president Supreme Court Bar Association. They have run similar campaigns against politicos/public officials (Raja Rentals, Mr 10pc, etc) and condemned them in media trials for being corrupt or unscrupulous, without presenting opposing viewpoints. Not only have they gotten away with partial journalism, once the hallmark of evening rags, the practice is now entrenched and followed by most media groups.
It isn’t that journalists and media houses don’t know how to do it right. The practice of slander is deliberate, as the power to scandalise is what is used to extort and exert influence. Geo’s news desk could have run Amir Mir’s accusation without putting the DG ISI on trial with sound effects and all. It could have presented the response from the DG ISI or his office simultaneously. It could have highlighted the need to investigate the serious allegation and moved on to other aspects of the story instead of cultivating the melodrama for hours.
Just because media houses have gotten away with slander in the past, doesn’t make it right. Slander is condemnable, period. And not just when it involves the DG ISI. The media was wrong when it presented Khawaja Asif’s 2006 speech critical of the army as one delivered by him in 2014 to put Khawaja in the dock, or when it ran a campaign against Hussain Haqqani; just as Geo wasn’t right in drumming up charges against the DG ISI in the Mir case.
“I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, Evelyn Beatrice Hall had written in Voltaire’s biography. No matter how unpleasant or abhorrent Geo’s presentation of accusations against the DG ISI, it is nowhere close to being as abhorrent as the attack on Hamid Mir.
Geo can be prosecuted for defamation and slapped with heavy penalties if convicted in accordance with the law, but it must not be condemned as a traitor or banned just because it had the audacity to voice a victim’s suspicion against a ranking general.
The ludicrous claim that Geo or Hamid Mir is a national security threat is a matter of opinion. What is a matter of fact, however, is that someone executed a plan to kill Hamid Mir, who wound up injured in hospital with six bullets in his body. What is a fact is that 29 journalists have turned up dead in Pakistan in the last four years and many more have been attacked for exercising their right to speak freely.
What is a fact is that intelligence agencies threaten journalists with dire consequences for reporting unpalatable stories or expressing undesirable opinions. What is a fact is that almost all studies analysing abuse of power by intelligence agencies (starting from Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan report in 1989 to the Missing Persons, Saleem Shahzad and OBL commission reports recently) highlighted that powers exercised by intelligence agencies were liable to abuse and needed to be subjected to effective checks and balances. What is a fact is that our khaki-controlled security establishment has not heeded any such recommendations.
This old game of branding as traitors those critical of failed conceptions of national security and national interest has not served us well. A doctrine of national security that condemns citizens who seek to speak their minds and aims to instil fear in the hearts of dissenters brash enough to point fingers at holy cows cannot possibly help a country in need of urgent reform.

Is Pakistan a Failed State?

By Naeema Saeed
Every time I hear or read about a bomb blast or any other act of terrorism in Pakistan, or when I come across the news of alleged role of the agencies against individuals or groups, I am taken back to my childhood when I, for the first time, came across this debate, “Is Pakistan a failed state?”
I remember I despised this question, which was less of a question and more of an exclamation. I despised it for all I had read in books was glorious about Pakistan. Islamiyat books told that how one believer could overpower at least ten infidels, and history books told how India was an aggressor in the 1965 war. And how we actually defeated them. In 1971, however, India was shrewd enough to plot the successful dismemberment of Pakistan. In 2014, foreign elements are again blamed for unrest in all parts of Pakistan.
No wonder, after all the engineered history which we read in textbooks, when I heard people say that Pakistan is a failed state, it made me cringe. The years passed and I grew up to many realties. I heard the lamentations about distorted history and misquoted facts. I, like many other people of my generation, realized things were not as rosy as we were made to assume in childhood. Nonetheless, for me Pakistan is anything but a failed state. For me it has not been a failed state at least up till now.
States do not simply pass or fail. They, in fact, either degenerate or flourish. They sustain or break. My parents are not only safe and sound, but they have served in public organizations. I have studied in a public university and no near or dear ones of mine have become victims of bomb blasts or targeted killings. No one of my family members is on the missing persons’ list. So the state has worked for me. But unfortunately it is random enough and does not work for everybody.
Pakistani state may mean little to the nomads living in tents across the metros who make their living by sending off their children to collect garbage. More so, it definitely seems like a failure to the child who lost his father in Karachi firing or to the girl whose husband died in a bomb blast. It is a failed enterprise to the Baloch father whose son’s name is on missing persons lists for last several years. Pakistan may be a failed state for the wife whose husband was on guard duty of polio workers and was eradicated while he was working for polio eradication. Many may disagree, but most of the political philosophers of both the democratic and authoritarian inclinations agree that the first duty of any state is to ensure the safety and security of its inhabitants. In fact, political philosophy emphasizes that the state came into being to meet the need of survival of the individuals. The philosophers like Hobbes and Locke stress that the state was created to ensure the survival of all so that individuals may not kill each others as a result of conflicting interests. In short, from philosophical as well as logical point of view, if a state does not fulfill its primary purpose of making the lives secure, it is a failure. The next purpose of the state is to decrease the divide between haves and have-nots and to ensure basic and fundamental rights of all. It can not be over emphasized that Pakistan as a state does not fulfill its secondary purpose as well.
Nonetheless, declaring a state a failure or a success is not as easy as it seems. States do not simply pass or fail. They, in fact, either degenerate or flourish. They sustain or break. Pakistan broke down in 1971. We should remember dismemberment as a lesson of history which we often tend to forget.
The states thrive by investing in the individual and by securing the interests of all; they set on the road of decadence when they aggravate the divide between haves and have-nots and when they take care of one certain class or group.
In Pakistan, the divides are deep and far too many. The provinces are not happy with each other. The civilians complain about army. The army seems unhappy about these complaints. The judiciary is alleged of activism and the politicians are lamented for sloth. Sectarian and religious divides seem beyond repair. Thanks to Twitter, now we know that supporters of different parties have little sympathy and respect for each other. The difference of opinion is scorned. Interests of groups and individual are given far more significance than the interests of the state. It may seem that we fail as a state and that is because we barely pass as a nation. Nonetheless, we can eulogize the idea of Pakistan and shun away any criticism as long as our individual interests are protected.

In Pakistan, Signs Praise (ISI) Spies as Nation Changes

On city streets in Pakistan, a curious sight has appeared in recent days: posters bearing the faces of the country's two most powerful generals that profess love for the military and its spying arm.
Lamp posts, street signs and cars carry the banners, which bear mottos like: "A traitor of Pakistan army is a traitor of the country" and "We love Pakistan army and ISI," referring to its Inter-Services Intelligence wing.
The mystery signs arrived in Pakistan as its powerful military faces off with the country's largest private television station over allegations that its forces were behind a shooting that seriously wounded one of its top anchors. But behind the chanting demonstrations and garish loyalty posters lies the deep challenge confronting Pakistan: Where does power lie in this country that's undergone three military coups since independence, with its army or its nascent civilian government?
The controversy started last Saturday when gunmen opened fire on Hamid Mir, an anchor for Geo News, wounding him six times. After the shooting, his journalist brother appeared on Geo and blamed the ISI for the shooting while the station showed a photo of its chief, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam. The station repeatedly aired the accusations and blamed the ISI for the "assassination attempt" against Mir.
The Defense Ministry then petitioned government regulators to remove Geo from the air — a decision that's likely to come in early May. The station then reported that it's signal was blocked in areas of the country as small rallies supporting the military began. Last week, the posters began appearing, some with the ISI leader on them.
Their origin is a mystery. Some said they were from the people of Islamabad, the capital. Others mentioned a Pakistani religious figure. Some listed the All Traders Welfare Association, a little-known trade group in the capital, headed by a man named Furqan Murtaza.
When reached by The Associated Press, Murtaza denied that any government or military agency encouraged his campaign.
"This is an expression of public sentiment," he said.
Generally, people have to get permission before hanging posters and banners in the capital and pay a fee. An official from the Capital Development Authority, which manages Islamabad, said the agency did not receive any requests to hang the posters, though it's common for people to do it without permission. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
The military did not respond to requests for comment. An ISI official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to discuss the agency publicly, said it was not responsible for the campaign.
The poster push comes as Pakistan, a country of 180 million that was carved out of India in 1947, last year saw its first civilian government finish a full five-year term and transfer power in democratic elections. Previously, military coups and other political turmoil prevented that. But even now, journalists face dangers reporting stories, the Taliban continue to be a threat and the military remains a powerful institution in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Rasul Baksh Rais, who heads the Islamabad-based Institute for Strategic Studies, said the posters reflect a larger sentiment in a society where many people still respect the military and feel Geo went too far in their criticism. He compared it to the same nationalist pride that sees images of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who took power in a 1958 coup, or air force jets decorate the sides of cargo trucks in the country. But on the streets, the posters seemed to do little to sway public opinion. "I don't have time to read these banners and listen to radio and TV," said Ghulam Hasan, 46. "No common man has time to pay attention to these things. They are always worried about how to meet their expenses." Hasan added: Those in charge "have no time to solve people's problems."

Pakistan: Walton flyover in Lahore: " Showing, Not Doing''

Last week, Punjab’s Chief Minister inaugurated the Walton flyover in Lahore. In celebration of the event, droves of helium balloons were released but they caught fire and exploded. The explosion injured 40 people, one of whom died yesterday. Little is known about these people, except that most were children and some were admitted to hospitals for burn injuries.
The event leads to two important concerns. First, it raises a red flag for safety under which it must be asked if the Punjab government’s planning team follows any safety standards during such large-scale, high-profile functions? Aside from security measures for politicians, do they account for any fire hazard rules or exit routes planned for the attending public? Are rescue services readily available in case of accidents? And in case of accidents, such as the one which has caused forty people to lie injured in hospital and one to die, who is held accountable?
The second concern, is that of displays of splendour. With so many inauguration and opening ceremonies occurring around the country hosting and hosted by politicians, the tax payer is paying the cost. These ceremonies usually involve marquees, caterers, air-conditioning and decor; a party every time. The Punjab Youth Festival allegedly cost Rs 6 billion. The Sindh Festival was worth roughly 250 million rupees. A hefty chunk of this amount went straight into grand opening ceremonies.
An example of the irony inherent to this, was the South Asia Labor Conference organized in Lahore last week. A conference that dealt with working class rights, addressed issues of bonded labour and policies related to the poorest of the poor, convened in the city’s foremost luxury hotel with exorbitant venue fees. Leaders and politicians are revered across the globe and this veneration even when well-deserved, must be maintained with some dignity and humility which is respectful of the conditions of the country. The culture of organizing lavish political and opening ceremonies to impress voters and depress opponents, that are ill-planned, lack accountability and common sense, must end. And the common man and woman must call for this change. If wedding parties hosted by private citizens are regulated for food, expense and timing, then certainl

Pakistan: Fighting and talking with Taliban

In the first air strikes since the Taliban announced ending the cease-fire, Air Force jets pounded militant hideouts in Khyber Agency on Thursday killing 35 suspected militants. Eight non-combatants, members of the same family, also lost their lives. That is the nature of this war. Terrorists take refuge among civilians, putting their lives at risk. According to press reports, the militants killed were involved in two recent terrorist attacks. The first was the April 9 Islamabad Sabzi Mandi bombing that left 25 people dead and at least 116 others injured, many of them critically. And the second was last Monday's assault on the police that killed five policemen and a passer-by. The attack on police took place outside Peshawar in an area adjacent to the troubled Khyber Agency. No wonder the security forces targeted different areas in the agency to take out the terrorists responsible for murdering so many civilians.
Notably, the security forces' clearly stated rule of engagement, even during the cease-fire period, was that they would retaliate immediately to any attack on their personnel or facilities. Following the Taliban decision not to extend the cease-fire, the tit-for-tat rule applies to all situations. The talks and fighting, however, are to go on side-by-side until the Taliban accept peace within the constitutional framework. The government strategy to keep the military option on the table while negotiating seems to be working. Helping the strategy are also developments in Afghanistan, where the situation has entered a decisive phase. The US troops withdrawal date is approaching fast. A heavy voter turnout in relatively peaceful elections in that country indicates that although the Afghan Taliban may not be down and out, but they are unlikely to regain control of Kabul government following foreign troops withdrawal. They will surely have some sort of share in power, but not complete control. Which would affect the ability of militants on this side of the border also to carry on their fight.
There, of course, are hard-core al Qaeda linked Taliban who were never going to accept resolution within the constitutional framework. These groups have wanted to keep the conflict and chaos going for the promotion of their jihadist agenda. But they are now said to face a sense of uncertainty about future. A press report based on a series of interviews with foreign fighters offers much hope for optimism regarding these international jihadists' situation. According to the report, although these people trust their hosts, they are wary of the negotiations process. In case there is a give and take between the local militants and the government, or the latter puts the former in a tight spot, say the international jihadists, they too would be in a tight spot, and hence are weighing options to move out to pursue their cause in other places, like Syria. Some do not rule out even the possibility of seeking safe passage from the government. A large number of them is said to have already left Pakistani soil. This development, indeed, is an encouraging sign of things moving in the right direction.

1,000 Christian, Hindu girls forced to convert to Islam every year in Pakistan: report

Around 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men every year, according to a report released by Movement for Solidarity and Peace- in Pakistan on Monday.
The report states the estimates of the incidence of forced marriage and conversion from 100 to 700 victim Christian girls and 300 Hindu girls per year, adding that the true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or do not progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.
The report has categorized the concurrent incidence of forced conversions and forced marriages as a distinct crime specific to minority Christian women in Punjab.
The research by MSP has lead to discovery of a distinguished pattern:
Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party.
The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity.
Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted.
In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out. Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family.
Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse.
In its report, MSP has included 10 illustrative cases victims who have been subjected to such patterns of violence and injustice.
The report describes the history of and social context within which forced conversions and marriages take place, the particular grievances of the Christians and others minorities in Pakistan including the Blasphemy laws as under Sections 295-B, and C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), constitutional guarantees of equal representation, underrepresentation in political institutions, and religion-specific Articles of the Constitution of Pakistan; and the issue of forced conversion and forced marriages targeting Christian girls community in Pakistan.
The report has surveyed legal, political, and procedural guarantees for rights protection and outlines illustrative cases demonstrating the pattern of violence through which the law becomes complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, and the complex nature of associated crimes that make it difficult to categorize this crime as specific to religious identity.
The report concludes with detailed recommendations for the key stakeholders at various levels – national, provincial, and local.
MSP has appealed for action with the release of the report.
The organisation is mobilising an inclusive coalition to raise awareness on this issue.
It will be hosting outreach events in the coming weeks in Pakistan (in collaboration with the National Commission of Justice and Peace in Pakistan) and around the world.

Pakistan: Bad medicine: Over 450 pharmacies selling spurious drugs in Lahore

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has identified more than 450 drug stores selling spurious drugs in the provincial capital, according to a report of the agency available with The Express Tribune.
The drugs include medicine manufactured by local and multinational pharmaceutical companies including life-saving drugs. Along with the FIA report, the names of the spurious drugs and the medical stores selling them have been shared with the provincial health authorities, including the Punjab health minister and the provincial health secretary, FIA Punjab Director Dr Usman Anwar said.
The Punjab chapter of the FIA had launched an operation in early April after several complaints were made about the sale of substandard medicine in Lahore. Over the last two weeks, the FIA identified and raided 10 establishments which engaged in the manufacture, bulk supply and distribution of spurious drugs to hundreds of drug stores in Lahore. The record confiscated at the 10 establishments jointly raided by the FIA personnel and drug inspectors of the Health Department included invoices documenting the sale of spurious drugs to more than 450 drug stores in Lahore. In random checks, the adulterated medicines supplied by the 10 establishments were recovered from the cited drug stores.
Pulling together
The schedule of offences that the FIA covers includes spurious drugs. However, the agency can only proceed against spurious drugs in coordination with the Health Department. Before initiating the crackdown, the FIA had held meetings with officials of the Health Department, the Quality Control Board, the drug testing laboratory and the pharmaceutical association, and requested their assistance. All four had agreed to support the action, according to FIA officials. The FIA report said that the medicine found during raids included fake drugs in forged packing, unregistered drugs, drugs sold without manufacturer’s warranty, expired medicine which had been repacked, drugs stolen from government or armed forces institutions, homeopathic or herbal products containing allopathic ingredients and drugs smuggled into Pakistan.
A taste of their own medicine
FIA Punjab Director Dr Usman Anwar said one of the arrested men had fainted in FIA’s custody. “He was taken to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital where he regained consciousness just as a nurse was about to administer a Risek injection to him. You should have seen him beg and plead with the nurses and doctors not to give him the injection. He had no compunction in stating that Risek was one of the fake injections that he manufactured and distributed in Lahore,” said the FIA Punjab chief. Action by FIA
During the 10 raids the FIA arrested 13 accused and recovered millions of tablets and injections from factories and distribution networks. A factory in Kot Abdul Malik, another on Bund Road, distribution networks in Johar Town and BOR Society, pharmacies in Samanabad and two stores at Medicine Market were raided. Two establishments dealing in medicine stolen from armed forces and other government hospitals were raided in Tajpura Scheme and Islampura.
The FIA report highlighted various obstacles during the operation against spurious drugs due to the complex procedure, particularly regarding constitution of teams to raid drug establishments. The FIA could not conduct a raid without the area drug inspector accompanying its team. After a successful raid, permission from the Quality Control Board was mandatory before a case could be registered. After the FIA completed its investigation and submitted the report to the relevant drug inspector, the drug inspectors had to again send this report to the Quality Control Board for permission to prosecute.

Pakistan: Extortionists calling: One-way ticket from Peshawar

The Express Tribune
When the first sinister phone call came, wealthy industrialist Z* dismissed it as an empty threat. A day later, a handwritten letter in Pashto language was sent to his Hayatabad Industrial Estate (HIE) plant in which extortionists demanded Rs200 million. Within the week, a rocket was fired at his factory from the neighbouring Khyber Agency, with this crystal clear message: pay up or perish.
While the government and the Taliban explore the possibility of an elusive peace deal, the frontline province in the battle against militancy bleeds money; industrialists and skilled professionals escape to safer ground – taking their capital and skills along – for fear of being kidnapped, milked or even killed.
Z has since fled to the United States along with his wife and young children, while his factories will wind up operations in the next few years. At least 200 direct employees will be rendered jobless as a result of the closure, with the number of runaway industrialists climbing to five. Four industrial units have already been attacked with rockets or bombs in the HIE, the largest of its kind in the province with nearly 440 units employing an estimated 120,000 people. “I am an influential and rich man and have good connections,” Z said before his swift departure. “But even I cannot deal with these thugs,” he said referring to the extortionists.
Prosperous businessmen like Z are an easy prey for extortionists in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, who use Afghan mobile SIM cards to make menacing phone calls demanding their ‘share’. Jewellers have also been targeted, along with shopkeepers on University Road and in the Saddar areas of Peshawar. Even doctors and teachers are not spared.
A local trader said that the owner of a private university in the city along with his relative who owns a system of private schools escaped to the UAE due to threats from extortionists. Around 28 doctors from teaching hospitals have taken long leaves and left the city. One Dr Amjad Taqweem fled even after payment of ransom to extortionists who had seized him from Hayatabad.
“There is no reporting of such events but extortion is rampant. Nearly every second industrialist is faced with this predicament,” a senior official of the K-P Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KPCCI) told The Express Tribune. At least 150 businessmen and industrialists have moved their factories from Peshawar to other parts of the country or shifted abroad, he added.
The KPCCI recently met the provincial chief minister and governor and demanded that the roaming facility be denied to Afghan mobile companies.
“These Afghan SIMs are openly available in the tribal areas. But there should be a ban on their sale and purchase, and most importantly, on roaming,” he maintained, adding that the police chief’s promises of a committee that will deal with these issues remain unfulfilled. The chief minister pledged to set up a separate police station in the industrial area, but locals remain skeptical.
“It is a matter of survival for us businessmen,” he said. These extortionists are very well informed; they know that no one can locate them. They know the number of your houses, vehicles and children. I personally know four industrialists who want to shift to the UK and invest there.”
Industrialists say that the absence of intimidating police battalions is one reason why the extortionists swoop down and kid people with ease. However, the boundary wall erected to stop incursions from Khyber Agency has not yielded positive results. Threatening phone calls are made; people are abducted and negotiations follow.
“Their demands fluctuate between Rs2 million and Rs200 million,” said one Peshawar industrialist, requesting anonymity.
Provincial Minister of Industries Shaukat Yousafzai said that they are pinning hopes on a specialised Anti-Terrorist Force, as well as the success of the ongoing peace talks. “We cannot provide a policeman to every man. But we are trying to solve these burning issues,” he said, adding that the police were assigned the task to fight militancy without being adequately equipped. Superintendent of Cannt Police Faisal Kamran said that around 40 FIRs were registered in extortion cases in the months of February and March, with 60 arrests. “There are gangs involved in multiple cases at a time and most of them are not militants but petty criminals taking advantage of the situation,” he said. He added that the new policy allows those under threat to register FIRs without coming to the police station, as criminals monitor their movements and get information from the intended victim’s domestic staff or guards. “Those people who receive a call for extortion should contact the local DSP by phone and he will himself reach them in plain clothes,” he added. (names have been changed to protect identity)

Pakistan: Unannounced load shedding starts paralysing industry, life

14 to 18 hours of load shedding recorded on Sunday in rural areas while up to 12-hour power cuts in urban areas * People take to roads in several cities in protest
With a rise in temperature, tall claims of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government regarding controlling hours-long power outages are proving to be short-lived, as unannounced/unscheduled load shedding return.
Reportedly, 14 to 18 hours’ long unannounced and unscheduled power load shedding was recorded on Sunday in rural areas, while up to 12 hours power cuts in the cities worsened the situation for the citizens, who had to bear with not just sweltering heat but in some cases water shortage too. The unannounced/unscheduled power outages spoiled the day-off for most of the population. People thronged the streets to protest against the outages amid scorching heat.
Protest demonstrations were reported from different areas of the country. The National Weather Forecast Centre of the Pakistan Meteorological Department has predicted mainly hot and dry weather for most parts of the country during the next two to three days. According to the weather update, temperature has increased in Lahore, Multan and other areas of Punjab, while it reached 40 degrees Celsius in most areas of Sindh and Balochistan, on Sunday.
Although the PML-Nawaz government has made tall claims on several occasions that it has controlled the power outages by enhancing power generation, miseries of the masses due to the unannounced and unscheduled power outages have grown. Meanwhile, the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) on Sunday portrayed a rosy picture of the power situation. It said that power generation has reached 11,000MW against the demand of 13,100MW. The hydropower generation stands at 3,050MW, thermal 1,535MW, and IPPs 6,415MW.
When contacted, energy experts deplored the resumption of unannounced/unscheduled power load shedding. They said that the incumbent government has so far failed to decrease electricity woes of the nation. “The emerging demand and supply gap amid rising mercury level, it is no exaggeration to say that power shortfall in peak summer season would shoot well over 4,000MW,” an expert said. Political pundits have predicted that increase in the duration of power load shedding ahead of the peak summer season is enough to lower the popularity graph of the incumbent regime whose ministers have been making tall claims regarding controlling power load shedding. Hours’ long power cuts would trigger protest demonstration across the country.
According to media reports, with the onset of summer heat the consumption of electricity has went up, increasing the gap between the generation and consumption of electricity in the country causing immense problems for the people, including water shortage in rural and urban areas of Sindh and Punjab, where the people complained of 14 to 16 hours of outages. People in Jamshoro went on a shutter-down strike in protest against the unannounced prolonged load shedding, while citizens staged a sit-in on the Indus Highway. The business community in Faisalabad, Sargodha, Gujranawala, Gujrat and other industrial areas are incurring huge business losses due to the prolonged power outages.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan: ''Some stark realities''

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has released its annual report for year 2013. Of all the wrong things happening in the country, the situation of minorities, women and children has worsened over the year. Pakistan has increasingly becoming intolerant towards those who do not share the religious beliefs of the majority in the country. And now with the rise of Taliban ideology and its Salafi brand of Islam, the noose around the neck of anyone other than the followers of this creed is in danger of choking them any time. HRCP has shown reservations about the government’s ongoing peace dialogue with the militants, more so because of their hatred towards the minorities. Their design on Pakistan had been to convert the land into an Islamic hub where no Christian, Hindu, Ahmedi or for that matter even Shia would have the right to live. We had seen tombs of saints and graves of religious scholars and poets desecrated. We have witnessed temples set on fire. We have seen Hindu girls forcefully converted to Islam after abduction by Muslim boys. Churches have been blown apart by bombs. Christian localities had been burnt to ashes. The prayer centres of Ahmedis were targeted. The absence of the right to defend by an alleged blasphemer is the ugliest reality of our justice system. According to the report, over one year, killing of Shias has risen by one fifth in Pakistan while attacks on Christians have gone up by 22 percent. The target killing of the Shia intelligentsia has continued through the year. The purpose of Pakistan’s creation had never been to make a Muslim-only country.
In fact Quaid-e-Azam wanted Pakistan to become an exemplary state that could accommodate people from different religions and races. Pakistan’s creation was a reaction to human rights discrimination done on the basis of religion against Muslims in united India. With Pakistan resorting to the same practices, are not we imitating the pre-partition extremist Hindu mentality?
The paradox is that on the one hand we want Pakistan to become the fortress of Islam and on the other our practices are such that only two years back in 2012 Pakistan was declared disastrous for religious and ethnic minorities, weak and vulnerable groups and marginalized communities. The situation has not changed since. According to the HRCP report in 2013, 869 women were killed in the name of honour, and some 800 women committed suicide. Similarly around 5.5 million children of school going age could not be enrolled in schools. These statistics speak volumes of the priority the government gives to human rights, especially to minorities, women and education. And unless we improve on these our survival shall remain in danger.