Sunday, May 4, 2014
A painting of Malala Yousafzai is to be auctioned at Christie’s in New York in aid of the Malala Fund. Called “Girl Reading”, it is by Jonathan Yeo, known for painting celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Dennis Hopper, Prince Philip, Tony Blair, and David Cameron. Saara Pritchard, of Christie’s in New York, said: “Jonathan has an incredible perception of the portraits that he paints and of the sitters that he paints. I think it’s very evident for anyone who sees this painting that this is a very young and beautiful girl, but also one who is very powerful and that is in particular conveyed by her eyes and her gaze which is completely captivating.” Yeo first met Malala in 2013 when she was recovering from being shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education rights for girls. Since then, she has continued to campaign, and has been showered by awards including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. When they met in New York, Malala said how amazed she was by the portrait: “You saw me two times only and you just drew a sketch. So I just would like to know like how you did this painting only by looking at a sketch or taking some pictures? Because I was not there when you were painting it.” Jonathan Yeo explained some of his working method: “Yes you are right. The sketches we did and the photographs were all very useful and important. But the other thing that’s important is spending a bit of time with somebody and getting a sense of their personality in a way that informs the whole mood of the painting and what you are saying with it. In a way that is the most important thing of all. And I think often when you are depicting somebody who is well known and people already have ideas about from seeing them on television in the media and in photographs, it’s important to work out if that’s the real person or not. “ Malala’s portrait is expected to fetch up to 80,000 US dollars when it is sold on May 14.
No-one should find the decision easy. There is nothing simple, clean, or clinical about ending a union that has endured for better than three centuries. Nevertheless, having considered the arguments, the Sunday Herald sincerely and emphatically believes that the best outcome is a vote for independence. We state our opinion not in an attempt to persuade our readers. That would be presumptuous and arrogant. We are well aware that there is good reason to assume the vote will be close. However, we are determined, as the debate enters its final, feverish stages, when emotions will doubtless run high, to make our position clear. We believe that now is the time to roll up our sleeves and put our backs into creating the kind of society in which all Scots have a stake. Independence, this newspaper asserts, will put us in charge of our destiny. That being the case, Scots will have no-one to blame for their failings, no-one to condemn for perceived wrongs. We will, for the first time in three centuries, be responsible for our decisions, for better or worse. The proposition is this: We believe independence offers Scotland an historic opportunity to choose the kind of country that might allow its people to prosper. Decisions affecting our lives will be made on our doorstep, by the people who live here. By us. A vote for independence says that a small country is not helpless in a big, troubling world. At the Sunday Herald we want a Scotland that cares about others, everywhere, as much as it cares about its own. We believe in a society that is altruistic and compassionate, that looks after everyone in need irrespective of their ability to pay. But we also want a society that is meritocratic, that rewards work and encourages entrepreneurialism. Above all, we want a progressive, fair society in which the gulf between haves and have nots is no longer unbridgeable. Come independence, the sky may still be blue (well, possibly not in Scotland in September) and the grass green, but there is no magic wand. Scotland will not overnight be transformed into a land flowing with milk and honey. A referendum cannot immediately wash away the legacy of the past. September's vote is not a straight choice between that past and an already-formed future. What is offered is the chance to alter course, to travel roads less taken, to define a destiny. As for that future, much remains unknowable. We cannot be certain the pound will be retained, that existing terms will be easily forthcoming, that the price of oil will be higher tomorrow than it is today, that pensions will dwindle or increase in value, that businesses big and small will stay or go. We can never know the future. Few saw the financial crash coming. You never know what is - good or bad - around the corner. The best we can do is take informed and educated guesses and create a stable, well-structured society that is able to weather whatever is thrown in its direction. Scotland has that opportunity. We therefore believe that a currency union is probable. Likewise we are confident that Scotland will be a member of the European Union. Moreover, we are sure that Scotland, through the talent of its people and its natural resources, can not only survive economically but can thrive, bringing lasting benefits for the common good. We view the referendum not as a choice between the status quo and an uncertain future, but as between a bankrupt, political structure and the chance to remake our society in a more equal, inclusive, open and just way. That seems to us to be a more exciting, imaginative and inspiring proposition than the alternative proposed by the No campaign. That it has been remorselessly negative need not detain us here. Its leaders have told us constantly what we can't do, aren't able to do, must avoid doing at all costs. Scotland removed from the Union, they insist, will be a poorer, parochial, rather pathetic place, with no voice in the corridors of power. These tactics have given the media much fat on which to chew. While polls have consistently shown there to be strong support for independence - albeit not enough yet for a majority - this has not been reflected in the press. Some newspapers are against independence, others merely unsympathetic to the notion. We do not believe this to be healthy. Scotland's media should reflect the diversity of opinion within the country. We believe that in a real democracy the public should have access to a wide range of views and opinions. The media should not speak with one voice. Diversity of opinion is reflected within the Sunday Herald's staff. Some of our team support independence, some do not, and others are still considering the arguments. Some are unconvinced by the merits of supporting a Yes vote. Far from regarding this as a weakness, we welcome it. The Sunday Herald has always been a broad church. We consider the fact a strength which we will always protect. Nevertheless, this newspaper's view is that independence is the right course for the country to take. Another auld song, 300 years in the singing, has come to its end. The stratagems of Better Together seem only to confirm that the United Kingdom has too little to say for itself, and too little to say to Scotland. We can manage matters better on our own account, and make a future for ourselves. The prize is a better country. It is, truly, as simple as that. That the Sunday Herald has decided to lend its support to independence does not mean that its sister papers, the daily Herald and the Evening Times, will do likewise. That is a decision for their editors to make. Nor does our decision reflect the position of our owners, the Herald and Times group. Tim Blott, managing director of the Herald and Times group, says: "Our policy is to give individual editors the freedom to decide their own newspaper's position on this hugely important constitutional issue but our own official company stance will remain non-political and neutral in the independence debate." Meanwhile, the Sunday Herald's advocacy of independence does not mean it will support unquestioningly the Scottish National Party or its allies. We have in the past published stories and views critical of both the SNP and the Yes campaign. We will continue to do so, and to break stories and report the news, whether or not it touches on our opinion. As a newspaper, we too are proud of our independence. And we will continue to seek the views of Better Together to maintain balance in our news stories. Clearly we do not share the views of the No campaign but we respect their right to their opinion and believe that they are as passionate about Scotland's future as we are. This is not an argument which should be mired in personal hatred. Scotland is an ancient nation and a modern society. We understand the past, as best we can, and guess at the future. But history is as nothing to the lives of the children being born now, this morning, in the cities, towns and villages of this country. On their behalf, we assert a claim to a better, more decent, more just future in which a country's governments will be ruled always by the decisions of its citizens. Scots have never been afraid to astonish the world. A small country has made a habit of producing big thinkers. The Sunday Herald says that it is time to think big once again. And to think for ourselves.
The Sunday Herald has become the first Scottish newspaper to support a Yes vote in the independence referendum.The paper declares its editorial position this weekend with a front page designed by Alasdair Gray, the famous artist, author and advocate of a Yes vote. In its editorial, the Sunday Herald states: ''Scotland is an ancient nation and a modern society. We understand the past, as best we can, and guess at the future. But history is as nothing to the lives of the children being born now, this morning, in the cities, towns and villages of this country. "On their behalf, we assert a claim to a better, more decent, more just future in which a country's governments will be ruled always by the decisions of its citizens.'' The paper supported the SNP in the 2007 and 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, but has said it will not automatically favour the SNP or other parties in its news reporting of the Yes campaign during the referendum, and will remain independent and balanced in its reports. The Herald & Times Group, publisher of the Sunday Herald, The Herald and the Evening Times, is giving the titles' editors freedom to take their own editorial position on the constitution. The company is non-political and neutral. The Herald has not declared an opinion on the referendum question. It will be up to its editor to decide when and if to do so. HeraldScotland incorporates content from both print titles and also publishes a balanced range of online-only articles relating to the referendum. Our readers' forum is a neutral commenting facility and our moderating team will remain impartial in the independence debate. Blair Jenkins, Yes Scotland chief executive, said: "The Sunday Herald is the first national newspaper to endorse either side in the debate about our country's future and we are delighted that it has chosen to support a Yes." He added: "The Sunday Herald's editorial is passionate, inspiring and, above all, a statement of common sense and irresistible logic. "It is also a very timely intervention following an analysis of the polls this weekend which confirm that support for Yes continues to build while backing for No is sliding backwards. "What all of this tells us is that more and more people are reaching the conclusion that a Yes vote on September 18 is an opportunity too good to miss. "With Scotland's future in Scotland's hands we can, should and must build the kind of country that we know Scotland can be."
Britain has one of the highest mortality rates in Western Europe for children under five, new research has revealed. Experts say factors like poverty, deprivation and smoking during pregnancy contributed to the premature deaths of 3,000 children in 2012. Infants born in Great Britain are more likely to die before their fifth birthday than any other country in Western Europe, apart from Malta, according to a study by the University of Washington and published in the Lancet journal. The study calculates the mortality rate at 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births in the UK, which is 25 percent higher than the Western European average. The study’s authors said they were surprised that a developed country that had pioneered a public health system had higher rates than poorer countries like Greece and Cyprus. The UK’s mortality rate is comparable with those of Poland and Serbia. "We were surprised by these findings because the UK has made so many significant advances in public health over the years," Dr Christopher Murray, the study’s principal director told The Guardian. "The higher than expected child death rates in the UK are a reminder to all of us that, even as we are seeing child mortality decline worldwide, countries need to examine what they are doing to make sure more children grow into adulthood." The study highlights the fact that although the childhood death rate fell between 1990 and 2013, the speed of the drop has slowed recently. Poverty and deprivation caused by cuts in welfare contribute to the large amount of deaths among children under five in the UK, suggests the study. Infants are more likely to die if they come from a poorer family, or have parents that smoked and drank during pregnancy. Editor-in-chief of the Lancet, Richard Hooton said that one of the main factors contributing to the high rate of mortality was "the poor organization of children's health services in the UK." “Until our politicians begin to take the health of children – the health of the next generation of British citizens – more seriously, newborns and older children will continue to suffer and die needlessly,” he told the Times. The countries with the least deaths of infants under five in Europe are Iceland, Andorra and Sweden. In addition, countries that surpassed Britain outside Europe included Australia, Israel, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. The UK has been hit hard by the financial crisis in Europe and as a result has seen a rise in poverty and the use of food banks across the country. According to The Trussell Trust, Britain's largest food bank charity, 913,138 people received emergency food aid from the organization in 2013-2014, compared to just 346,992 in 2012-2013 – marking an increase of 163 percent. The organization has said the coalition government’s harsh cuts to Britain’s welfare system have had a significant effect on the poorer population.
Firing from Afghanistan killed one Pakistani security person on Sunday at the Pak-Afghan border area near Bajaur tribal region, according to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public relations (ISPR). It was not clear whether the cross-border firing was conducted by Afghan security personnel or militants. “We don't have more information yet. We can only confirm that a security official was killed because of firing across the border in Bajaur region,” said a senior military official when contacted for details. At least five Pakistanis, including a woman, were killed and 25 other wounded when Afghan National Army personnel opened fire at a border village in Zhob district in September last year. Earlier on May 2013, Pakistan had summoned the most senior Afghan diplomat in the country to protest over similar border skirmishes that had reportedly left five Pakistani security personnel wounded. In another incident in August 2012, security personnel from both countries entered a two-hour-long clash, which had caused no casualties but strained relations between the two countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan typically blame each other for violence by Taliban militants plaguing both sides of their border, known as the Durand Line.
A double landslide that first buried an Afghanistan village and then hundreds of rescuers is a mass grave holding thousands of people after authorities found that digging for bodies in 50 meters of mud and rock was impossible, officials said Saturday. The Friday tragedy was so devastating -- even a wedding ceremony was waylaid in the slide -- that Sunday will be a day of national mourning, the Afghan presidential palace said. A memorial ceremony was planned for late Saturday. The first landslide swallowed 300 to 400 homes in the Argo district of Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan where an estimated 2,700 people resided, authorities said. In a rescue, almost 600 people from a nearby village volunteered to help dig people out, but a new landslide occurred and consumed many, if not all, of them, too, said Shah Waliullah Adeeb, the provincial governor of Badakhshan. The governor's office said at least 2,000 people died in the slides. As a triage, authorities are now focusing on about 4,000 survivors and evacuees. Response groups were rounding up food, water, medical support, counselors and emergency shelter for them, according to a spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Relief was made difficult by how the disaster site lies in a far-flung mountain valley, where homes are terraced on hillsides and uniformly made with stone-colored exteriors, officials said. One mountainside had its face sheared off, and beneath it was freshly tilled soil and rock. U.N. agencies and partners were mobilizing resources for delivery Saturday and the coming days, the U.N. mission said. The survivors, from about 700 families, were displaced by the landslides or evacuated from their villages as a precautionary measure against future slides, the U.N. said. A commission has been formed to prepare a list of people who were buried underneath stones and mud, the governor said. The list so far contains 400 names of missing people. Adeeb appealed to international organizations to help survivors and evacuees. The landslide crashed down around noon Friday. The governor said a wedding ceremony was taking place at the time. The area is far from a major city and is bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south. Rocky terrain and mountains make it difficult to reach. The United States is "ready to help our Afghan partners as they respond to this disaster," U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday. "I want to say on behalf of the American people that our thoughts are with the people of Afghanistan, who have experienced an awful tragedy," Obama said during a wide-ranging news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Badakhshan comprises a majority Tajik population and an Uzbek and Kyrgyz minority. It was the only province not controlled by the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan.
Estimates of the number of dead in the Afghan landslide vary wildly.
In a country full of contradictions, if media does not regulate itself soon, there are chances that the state could come up with arbitrary rules and regulations, says senior Pakistani journalist Owais Tohid.Amnesty International has said that journalists in Pakistan live under constant threat of killings, harassment and other violence. According to the report, released on April 30, 2014, members of the media face this violence at the hands of the intelligence services, political parties and armed groups like the Taliban. Meanwhile, the recent attacks on two senior journalists, Raza Rumi and more recently, Hamid Mir, have rekindled the on-going debate in Pakistan about accountability and media ethics. It also coincides with the launch of the report by the media commission, appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This report was published by the local office of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. DW spoke with Owais Tohid, a senior journalist in Pakistan and a panelist for the launch event of "The Report and Recommendations of The Media Commission," which was released on April 29, 2014. DW: What exactly does the media commission report talk about? Owais Tohid: The media commission's report, compiled by retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid together with the chairman of the commission and former Senator Javed Jabbar, talks about the dysfunctional regulatory body, the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the restructuring of the information ministry. It also contains suggestions about how to regulate electronic media. Why now, at this particular point in time? Is it because, in the last year or so, Pakistani media has been highly critical of the ISI with respect to the disappearances of Baloch separatists and attacks on journalists? I don't think it has anything to do with any pressure from the intelligence agencies. This debate has been going on for years in Pakistan. People have been comparing electronic media to a wild horse; some were even portrayed as wild beasts or animals. The problem is, there is no uniformity or unity amongst the media houses and journalists' bodies and so, in the eyes of the public, electronic media looks a bit chaotic. It is, to some extent, losing its credibility. The recent attacks have rekindled this debate and it coincides with the media commission's report. What is the current standard of media ethics in Pakistan? The debate started after Hamid Mir, a senior Pakistani journalist, was attacked on April 19, 2014, by unidentified gunmen in the southern city of Karachi. He is now recovering in a local hospital and his condition is said to be stable. After the attack, Mir's brother, accused the country's powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for the attack, in a television program. A few other channels started blaming this particular channel, labelling it a traitor, which to me is not justified. It's not media's job to call somebody a traitor or a patriot. Certain sections of the media behaved like sharks in a feeding frenzy, devouring each other. They dug their own graves by branding somebody a traitor or a patriot. No one gave them the right to declare that. The government's regulatory authority, such as PEMRA and other journalist bodies, have failed to resolve or intervene in this issue. So, the time has come for journalist bodies, editors and media managers to do some soul searching. But regulation doesn't mean policing. What are your recommendations for the regulation of media in Pakistan? In my opinion, they should form a body of editors which can act as a buffer between the state institutions and the media houses, to implement a code of ethics and guidelines. Otherwise, it is not going to be a good scenario, especially in a country which is going through a full blown conflict and is, therefore, called a hostile zone. Currently there is a huge problem of security for journalists, and most media personnel are not insured. They should be insured from head to toe because it is a conflict zone. They should be handed over the guidelines before they go out to cover any violent incidents. So adopting a set of guidelines is the need of the hour and in the interest of both the state and the media houses. Has the state failed to ensure the safety of journalists in the country? As a journalist, hazard comes with the job. But yes, at the same time, I believe that fingers will be pointed towards the state organizations and the law enforcement agencies because it is their responsibility to provide security. On the other hand, the responsibility also lies with media organizations to make the environment better by giving full support to journalists. There has been a debate about reporting on "matters of national interest." As a journalist, how do you draw the line between maintaining your professional standards and at the same time, not annoying the state? National interest is supreme, but it leaves behind blurry lines and that is exactly where the media's role comes in. The meaning of national interest is highly debatable; it is like walking a tight rope. A journalist's job is that of a watchdog and to give a voice to the people. What is it like working as a journalist in Pakistan? Well, there are a lot of contradictions, for sure. The constitution of Pakistan guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but at the same time, the regime's actions curb these fundamental rights and allow security forces to detain somebody for a certain amount of time and no one can challenge that in the courts. Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan ensures freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but, it is subject to any reasonable restrictions, enforced by law, in the interest of the glory of Islam, defense, national interest, security, obscenity and vulgarity. It is open ended and so broad based, but not a single editor or a media manager is asked to debate on it. We have been trying to have this article amended. Besides, there are over fifty laws concerning the press it is like living under a sword. That is why I say we must get our act together and come up with a set of guidelines before a supra, state body does that. That will not be liked by many. Owais Tohid is a leading Pakistani journalist. He has headed three Pakistani news channels and has also been associated with AFP, BBC, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine and The Guardian.
It’s taken a good long year, but Mr Imran Khan has finally figured it all out. As 11th May approaches, he is reminded of what transpired on the same date last year. Visibly agitated, he is more vocal than ever before about the negative role of those he once considered ‘good people’. As part of setting the stage for countrywide protests on 11th May against rigging in the general election, he has chosen to identify all the villains. The list includes almost everyone: the judiciary, the media, the military, the caretaker setup and the PML-N. In this great scheme against the PTI, the judiciary was represented by former chief justice of the Supreme Court (SC) Iftikhar Chaudhry and his loyal returning officers, the media by Jang group, the caretaker setup by journalist and PCB Chief Najam Sethi and the military by a certain Brigadier from Military Intelligence. During his most recent press conference, the PTI Chairman announced his party’s boycott of Geo TV and Jang group altogether. It is interesting to note that this decision has come a year after Mr Nawaz Sharif’s victory speech was “prematurely” aired by Geo TV along with other channels. Is it possible that Mr Khan has chosen this specific moment to take on the channel primarily because it is already engaged in a tussle with the military? What is it that he knows now about Geo that he didn’t three or six months ago? Mr Khan surely knows that wherever the electronic media has a presence, announcement of results based on trends that emerge after initial counting is a norm. Nowhere does the media stay mute until 100% counting of votes is complete. Mr Nawaz Sharif knew that the PML-N had won the elections in the country the same way Mr Asad Umar knew that the PTI had won in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa around the same time; after 11 pm on the fateful day. Regardless, Mr Khan has no right to ask for an apology from anyone simply because he has ‘suspicions’. He should present credible evidence, instead of flawed theories before the public. Anyone can point fingers and hurl accusations. Mr Khan’s party is leading the provincial government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, on the basis of the mandate it received from the same election he considers fraudulent. If the PML-N doesn’t have the right to rule, the PTI doesn’t either. Having said that, it is important that Mr Khan’s concerns are addressed as they involve issues related to free and fair elections and democracy in the country. However, it would be unfortunate to see Mr Khan do more harm than good for the ideals he claims to be struggling for.
Even for a politician, Imran Khan speaks far too much – and far too often. His words have lately been making less and less sense, but sadly the PTI chief appears to lack genuine friends who can prevent him from making a fool of himself. This of course is what he is doing right now, throwing reason aside as he spurts out, loudly and with sometimes terrifying venom, words that have either been fed to him or are the results of delusional thinking. In either case they are absurd. After initially lashing out at Geo TV and the Jang Group for ‘defaming’ an institution while reporting on the six bullets pumped into the body of Hamid Mir last month, Imran has now stridden out in another direction and accused the network of playing a part in rigging the 2013 general election. For someone who holds a degree from Oxford University Imran Khan has turned out to be surprisingly numerically illiterate. In weaving a grand conspiracy theory whereby Geo was part of a malign network of forces, the PTI chief has offered as proof the fact that the network called the results of seats before every vote was counted. Surely, Imran reasons, anyone who could guess the winner must have been involved in picking that winner in the first place. What Imran does not understand – or more likely is pretending not to understand – is how statistics work. Geo, and every other news network in the country, was broadcasting vote totals as they were released and pointing out what percentage of polling stations had reported their results. In many cases, the vote patterns were strong enough to confidently state which candidate would win. But Imran does not want to hear about exotic concepts like representative sampling. He would much rather weave a grand conspiracy whereby Geo rigged the results in favour of Nawaz Sharif who then returned the favour by appointing Najam Sethi as PCB chairman who then gave the television rights for a cricket series to Geo. That one media group has the power to rig the elections and all it asks for in return is the right to air a few cricket matches is a theory so outlandish that it took Imran Khan nearly a full year to think it up. Khan’s charges essentially hover around the announcement of ‘partial’ results from polling stations and the broadcast of a speech by Nawaz Sharif some minutes after 11pm on May 11. It is difficult to even begin to understand how this could have affected the outcome of a poll in which votes had been cast hours ago. Imran’s fixation on rigging, his allegations that his candidate contesting NA-118 in Lahore had to pay millions of rupees to have thumb impressions verified and that there were problems with many votes cast may not be incorrect. But what could Geo have to do with this? Perhaps Imran has been reading too much fantasy; certainly in few places in the world have such wild accusations been made. The rest of Imran’s diatribe makes even less sense. He has repeated allegations that were thrown out by the Supreme Court in August last year – that Geo accepted funding from foreign sources for some of its campaigns. At the time, Pemra was made to apologise for suggesting this. Everyone talks of ‘games’ being played by various entities but what Imran Khan has done cannot be written off merely as a political game. Surely he must know that levelling unfounded allegations of taking money and directions from foreign powers puts lives at threat. Just a couple of days ago a Geo reporter was beaten up in Bahawalpur and denounced as an Indian agent. This is the type of attitude that Imran will end up encouraging. He may see the TTP and its ilk as misunderstood nationalists but they have a track record of hunting down those they see as US collaborators. Should anything happen to an employee of the Jang Group because of irresponsible speculation of having divided loyalties, Imran will have to bear the burden of having incited such attacks. There have always been allegations and speculations about the interests behind the PTI’s emergence as a political force. These are now bound to resurface. The suddenness and venomous nature of Imran’s attack, combined with his upcoming protest rally, is already beginning to be being seen by many as a move to destabilise democracy and the free media. It is unclear quite why Imran Khan has decided to turn on Geo in this fashion. But it is clear that Imran, as some senior analysts have already pointed out, has completely lost the track he may have been walking on. This track was always a wobbly one. It now seems to have vanished into a jungle where nothing is clear and it is easy to get lost. The PTI chief is lost. He has thrown himself into a situation that casts doubts over both his integrity and rationality.
Commendably for it the Sindh Assembly has taken the lead in prohibiting marriage of children, both girls and boys, less than 18 years of age, passing the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2013. Violations would be punishable with three-year imprisonment and fine. Although the bill was first introduced by two PPP legislators last year, its passage comes in the wake of a controversial statement, the Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) made recently terming prohibition of underage marriage as un-Islamic. He had opined that children of any age could contract 'nikah' while consummation of marriage (rukhsati) is allowed only when the couple reaches puberty. Yet in a contradictory position the Council also suggested taking out the clause from the Child Marriages Restriction Act, 1929, that disallows a child to annul marriage arranged by the father or maternal grandfather, saying the child should have the right to go against the decision of his/her father or grandfather upon reaching puberty. The CII ruling merits several objections. First and foremost, Islam does not set specific rules for marriage. The most important condition on which there are no two opinions is that of obtaining the consent of both the bride and the groom in the presence of two witnesses. That, apparently, is where the CII suggestion about doing away with the law that denies the child the right to annul marriage on reaching puberty comes from. The idea informing the condition of consent, of course, is that individuals have the right to decide whether or not to marry a particular person. But puberty comes much earlier than mental maturity to make major decisions - for many girls, even before entering teenage. No one is expected to make such an important life changing decision as marriage at age ten or eleven. The law world over does not permit people to vote or even to drive a vehicle before attaining adulthood. The maulanas in the CII, apparently, think that the only purpose of human life is procreation. Even for that puberty is not the right time for the obvious reason that children need first to grow themselves physically before producing their own children. There is a reason why the rate of childbirth deaths is much higher than average among adolescent mothers. The CII would be well-advised to devote attention to more serious issues like the feudal/tribal customs of Vani, Karo-Kari and Swara that should have no place in a Muslim society. We hope the child marriage restraint law would soon be replicated by other provinces as well. Needless to say, though, it is not enough to enact good laws, effective implementation must also be ensured. For a beginning, a sustained public awareness campaign is in order.
The status of the state’s, especially military intelligence’s, alliance with the madrassah nexus is hazy at best as far as public opinion goes, which is odd considering the long years since this war on terror came to Pakistan. The same is true for proxy militias; not the FATA variety, but far more institutionally trained, in national nerve centres, a world away from the Durand Line. The word in Punjab, where these lashkars and jaishes are centred, is that they split with the state after the ’07 Lal Masjid operation, and have since found increasing common cause with Al Qaeda instead, hence the Punjabi Taliban. That would put some of TTP’s attacks in perspective, especially those involving military top brass and highest security installations, including the ISI offices and the GHQ. Yet pretty much of the local and almost the entire foreign press seem obsessed with the ISI, and its continuing patronage of Islamist militias, even after they declared war on the state. Why? Part of the reason is the official response. Granted, the military has clearly won most of the public’s admiration and allegiance, especially over the matter of dealing the Taliban a military blow in Waziristan. But the insurgency is more than just a military nuisance. The jihad model first tried in the Soviet war relied heavily on forced indoctrination, and how religion was used to achieve political aims is no secret, especially for the military. And even though hardliners have spread this indoctrination virus right through the Deobandi clergy, there is still no official counter narrative, which has serious implications. Just like the Lal Masjid aftermath proved, these militants must be attacked on numerous fronts. Just force, though necessary, was not nearly enough. They were able to spin subsequent events in their favour to the extent that the religious right, even sections that had resisted militant tactics, gathered around to defend them, indeed believing they were defending the cause of Islam. If there had been greater official indulgence in the information part of the war, which the TTP waged far more effectively – Mullah FM, etc, – the far right would not have been able to hijack centre stage of the public debate at present, as talks seem destined to fail once again. Then there are also certain actions, or rather lack of necessary action on occasion, that speak volumes. And there has not been enough action to neutralise the TTP’s logistical network across the country. Journalists, analysts, even the common man, and especially the military now know of the close working relationship between religious madrassas and the TTP. And once again journalists are risking savage reprisal attacks by bringing these linkages to the fore, yet the state lets them mushroom. The fact that they have dubious funding sources, outrageous anti-state and religion subverting syllabi, and outright treasonous political aims, is not highlighted often enough. They also facilitate kidnapping and extortion, along with other similar operations, which make for another attractive source of funding for the insurgents. So long as these practices are not checked, the war against terrorism will not be won. And however much the military exercises muscle in the badlands, it will not be able to control revenge attacks in urban centres.
Former President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed profound grief and sorrow over the loss of innocent lives due to landslide in Afghanistan. In a message the former President said that mankind is helpless before natural calamities and disasters and that it is the shared responsibility of all to strive to alleviate the sufferings of the grief stricken people afflicted with such disasters. Mr. Zardari also offered condolences to the bereaved families over the death of their near and dear ones and over material losses. He also prayed for the recovery of those injured in the landslide.