Thursday, May 22, 2014

President Obama: US Tourism a 'Great Product to Sell'

Dramatic video: Boiling-hot water bursts into bus full of passengers like geyser

Behind Xinjiang attack, glimpse into China’s growing terror problem
Xinjiang, a mineral-rich desert "autonomous region", has seen a history of ethnic tensions between the native Uighur Muslims and majority Han Chinese migrants. Thursday’s bomb blast targeting a market in China’s western Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, which left at least 31 people killed and 94 injured, was only the latest of a series of daring and brazen attacks by Islamist groups that are, according to analysts in Beijing, demonstrating increasing willingness and capabilities to carry out high-profile attacks in major cities.
Thursday’s incident follows three attacks on railway stations since March 2014, which left more than 30 people killed and several hundred injured. On March 1, at least 29 people were killed when a group of apparently trained assailants, armed with long knives, attacked passengers in Kunming railway station, in southwestern Yunnan Province. The Kunming attack was blamed by authorities on Uighur extremist groups, who are campaigning for independence in Muslim-majority Xinjiang.
Xinjiang, a mineral-rich desert “autonomous region” that borders Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Central Asia has seen a history of ethnic tensions between the native Uighur Muslims and majority Han Chinese migrants since it came into the People’s Republic of China’s fold six decades ago.
Intermittent ethnic riots have broken out every few years. In 2009, at least 197 people were killed and more than a thousand injured as Uighur and Han clashed in Urumqi. While China has long blamed Uighur separatist groups for fomenting unrest, many Uighurs have pointed to rising disparities and restrictions on religion as fuelling anger and ethnic distrust.
What has dramatically changed in recent months, according to Pan Zhiping, a terrorism expert at the government-run Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences in Urumqi, is that some Uighur extremist groups have decided to take their fight outside of Xinjiang, targeting Chinese cities.
In October 2013, three Uighurs drove a explosive-laden vehicle into a crowd of tourists in the heart of Beijing — right on Tiananmen Square — killing two tourists.
The Kunming attack, according to Mr. Pan, also showed an altogether new level of organisation: eight attackers appeared well trained, he said, and by carrying out an attack in far-away Yunnan province demonstrated increased capabilities.
The timing of the spurt in attacks, and what has suddenly emboldened and enabled groups, is unclear. Chinese officials have blamed Uighur groups operating overseas for leading the attacks. Some officials believe leaders of the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are hiding out in Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
On Thursday, visiting Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain, in Shanghai for a regional security summit, in strong terms pledged support to China and “combat the terrorists”, describing the ETIM as “a common enemy of Pakistan and China”.

US Panel Urges Stronger Stand Against Religious Freedom Violators
A bipartisan U.S. government panel on Thursday urged the State Department to double the number of countries named as severe violators of religious freedom.
The chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert George, testified before a House subcommittee on Foreign Affairs.
He said it had been eight years since the State Department added, or removed, a country from its list of so-called Countries of Particular Concern on religious liberty, or CPCs.
“We’re concerned that the designations that have been made in the past simply become, in the words of our vice chairman Katrina Lantos Swett, the great human rights champion, 'part of the wallpaper' that nobody pays attention to,” he said. There are now eight states designated as CPCs in the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, including Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
George said recent events warrant the addition of another eight, including Pakistan and Syria.
Critics say naming and shaming violators can complicate diplomacy aimed at improving conditions for religious liberty.
George disagreed. He said, “The designation process and the possibility of punitive actions can breathe new life into diplomatic efforts, that should both precede and follow the designation, and stimulate political will in foreign capitals.”
George also told lawmakers he is concerned because the State Department’s post of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has been vacant since October.
The Commission on International Religious Freedom includes members of the three main Abrahamic faiths. But it has been criticized for being more concerned with persecution against Christians than people of other religions.
A day before the hearing, the commission condemned a bill in the Turkish parliament to turn the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul - which has been both a Christian and Muslim place of worship - back into a mosque

US condemns declaration of Thai army coup d’état

Thailand’s army chief, general Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized control of the government in a coup today, two days after declaring martial law, saying the military had to restore order and push through reforms after six months of turmoil. The military declared a 10pm until 5am curfew, suspended the constitution and detained some politicians. It later summoned former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and 22 others, including relatives and ministers in her ousted government. Rival protest camps were ordered to disperse and media censored. There were no reports of violence.
US secretary of state John Kerry said there was no justification for a coup, which would have “negative implications” for ties. The United States was reviewing its military and other assistance, “consistent with US law”.
Thailand is locked in a protracted power struggle between supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and opponents backed by the royalist establishment that has polarised the country and battered its economy. “In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again ... and to reform the political, economic and social structure, the military needs to take control of power,” Mr Prayuth said in a televised address. The general made his broadcast after a meeting to which he had summoned the rival factions, with the aim of finding a compromise to defuse anti-government protests.
But no progress was made and Mr Prayuth wound up the gathering by announcing he was seizing power, according to a participant. The Thai armed forces have a long history of intervening in politics - there have been 18 previous successful or attempted coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, most recently when Mr Thaksin was deposed in 2006. Hundreds of soldiers surrounded the meeting at Bangkok’s Army Club shortly before the coup announcement and troops took away Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government protests.
Some political party leaders were also detained, witnesses said.
Mr Prayuth, who has for months been trying to keep the army out of the political confrontation, assumed the powers of the prime minister.
Shots fired
Soldiers fired shots into the air to disperse thousands of pro-government “red shirt” activists gathered in Bangkok’s western outskirts.
The military detained one of the leading activists, a spokesman for the group said, and the protesters later left peacefully, many of them in vehicles provided by the military.
The army also ordered television and radio stations to halt programmes and broadcast its material, and banned gatherings of more than five people. It said it would block websites that spread false information or incited unrest. The army had declared martial law on Tuesday, saying it was necessary to prevent violence. Twenty-eight people have been killed and 700 injured since the anti-government protests erupted late last year.

President Obama Designates the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Video: US Navy turns seawater into fuel

The US Navy is turning seawater into fuel. Scientists at the US Naval Research Lab have been able to extract CO2 and hydrogen from the ocean and repackage it in a form of fuel that could one day power the Navy's fleet.

Russia, China veto U.N. bid to refer Syria to International Criminal Court

A United Nations Security Council resolution referring the Syrian War to the International Criminal Court fails to pass after veto votes by Russia and China.

Video: 'Outrageous!' Moscow hits back at Prince Charles over Putin-Hitler comparison

Global Geopolitics and the Russia-China “Gas Deal of The Century”

By Ulson Gunnar
Russian energy giant Gazprom’s 30 year, 400 billion dollar gas deal with China is set to impact global geopolitics in many profound ways. To understand the future impact of the deal, it is important first to understand the geopolitical conditions that face both Russia and China today that helped seal it.
The Russian Imperative
For Russia, diversifying its markets away from the European Union is of vital importance. Persistent economic decline is effecting demand, while special interests within the EU have become increasing belligerent toward Russia as the supranational conglomerate seeks to expand into Russia’s traditional spheres of influence. The EU and NATO’s insistence on continued eastward expansion, “integrating” nations along Russia’ peripheries, is now clearly aimed at the encirclement of Russia proper. The current crisis in Ukraine, and the brief conflict of 2008 on the Russian-Georgian border are both direct results of this expansion. US and EU sanctions aimed at Russia, and Russia’s response by leveraging the EU’s dependence on its natural gas have reminded both of this vulnerable interdependencies.
For Russia, it will be difficult to find another market in which to sell the 160 billion cubic meters of natural gas it exported to Europe last year. The new deal with China is expected to begin at 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, or about a quarter of what it exports to Europe. Additional pipelines are in the works, and the amount of gas routed to China can surely be expanded to meet future demand.
While the new deal will not be a substitute for European markets, the ability for Russia to shut off 40 billion cubic meters of gas to the EU may become a persuasive bargaining chip, one US shale gas will be unable to compensate for well into the foreseeable future, if ever.
The new deal will take effect in 2018, so may not immediately compensate for US-EU sanctions leveled against Russia in the latest Ukraine row. However, many of these sanctions have had either disappointing effects, or have all together failed to bite. Sanctions aimed at Russia’s aerospace industry for instance, fell flat, both because Russia is indispensable to the United States (its astronauts entirely depend on Russian launch systems) and Western alternatives are years from implementation. By the time these sanctions do begin to bite, Russian gas will be flowing into China, and Chinese capital will be flowing into Russia’s economy.
The Chinese Imperative
For China, its immense population has likewise immense energy requirements. As the world’s largest oil importer, its sources in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) require a long and vulnerable logistical line known to many geopolitical analysts and policy planners as China’s String of Pearls. The United States, in a bid to reassert itself in the Pacific and maintain both regional and global hegemony, has committed to years of disrupting China’s oil lifeline and in theory, strangle China’s growth. The US has sown chaos across MENA and attempted to carve off the entire Pakistani province of Baluchistan. This is an attempt to disrupt China’s plans to establish a port in Gwadar to receive Middle Eastern oil, and a pipeline across Pakistani territory into China to deliver it to Chinese markets. Similar meddling is taking place in Myanmar to disrupt a Chinese port and planned pipeline in Rakhine state.
While coal accounts for most of China’s energy production, with oil coming in second, China is planning to replace these and other hydrocarbon sources with natural gas in the near future. When Russian gas begins flowing into China, not only will it allow for the expansion of markets where it is currently being used, but will enable China to begin reducing its dependency on oil via its long, vulnerable logistical lines from MENA, and coal it is now beginning to import in greater quantities from Australia.
The Net Impact
Beginning in 2018, Russia will have an alternative market in China for its natural gas that will grow steadily and perhaps even eclipse its current markets in Europe. This will allow Russia to better counter attempts by the EU and NATO to expand into its traditional spheres of influence, and prevent the geopolitical encirclement of its territory by the West. With Russia’s pipelines in the east running through relatively stable regions of its territory directly into China, vulnerabilities such as US-backed terrorism (as is present in Russia’s Caucasus region) and US-EU destabilization in countries through which Russian gas must move through in the west, will be nonexistent, providing a stable and reliable source of economic growth for decades to come.
China likewise will benefit from the proximity within which Russian gas will be delivered. US-backed separatists in China’s western provinces, and attempts to destabilize nations in which China’s logistical infrastructure must be located to ensure the steady flow of oil to its markets will have no effect on this new and expanding source of energy.
The net impact is the circumvention of decades of geopolitical maneuvering, alliances, and conflicts the US, UK, and EU have bled themselves dry in terms of resources and political legitimacy arraying against Russia and China. Through a direct energy partnership that will pave the way for future expansion, both Russia and China are hedging risks they face due to a dependency on both direct dealings with the West, and in regions the West is able to project military, economic, and political influence upon.
In the short-term, the significance of the deal will be primarily political, rendering US-EU sanctions leveled against Russia that will take years to bite, virtually moot and thus meaningless amid the current crisis in Ukraine. EU member states will begin entering Russia’s impending leverage into their calculus when considering how much support politically and materially to lend Washington, London, and Brussels in their support of pro-Western Kiev.
For China, the deal will confound America’s current “pivot to Asia” strategy of encircling and containing China, as Beijing opens up energy corridors immune to Washington’s meddling.
Finally, Russia and China’s constructive energy partnership, concluded without territorial, economic, or legal integration, will lend further credibility toward a future multipolar global order, while simultaneously exposing the shortcomings, even follies, of the West’s unipolar system of pursuing hegemony through costly and ultimately unsustainable global integration.

China's Gas Deal with Russia Could Benefit Rest of Asia

Vast Siberia Fields Expected to Produce Enough Cheap Fuel for Other Countries, Put Pressure on Other Development Projects
Russia's $400 billion gas deal with China may pave the way for cheaper energy for the rest of Asia and put in question the viability of future gas developments around the world.
By committing to the 30-year accord, Beijing will help finance the development of two vast gas fields in Eastern Siberia. While much of that output will go to China, there will still be plenty of relatively cheap gas left over that Russia plans to pipe to the Pacific coast near Vladivostok and ship as liquefied natural gas to elsewhere in Asia.
That will put downward pressure on energy prices in the region and avoid Russia becoming too reliant on China. Russia made a similar maneuver several years back when it built a crude-oil pipeline to the Pacific with a spur pipeline into China.
While good news for buyers, lower prices are a potential threat for developers of other multibillion-dollar gas projects being planned that also target Asian markets, which need to decide soon if this new supply could lose them customers and impact their profits.
The significance so far of the deal is mostly political given the boost it provides to Russian President Vladimir Putin as his relations with the West sour. It remains to be seen what the deal will do to prices, but that will be crucial in determining the impact on other suppliers, many of whom are already experiencing cost overruns.
The agreement "will have profound impacts on multiple fronts including political relationships among China, Russia, Europe and the U.S., domestic gas market in China, and [the] LNG market in Asia," said analysts at Bernstein Research in Hong Kong. Higher-cost LNG projects "will be less likely to be developed."
Developing sites capable of producing gas can costs tens of billions of dollars and take years to bring online, leaving their backers vulnerable to sudden changes in the market, like the recent China-Russia deal or the unlocking of shale gas reserves in North America.
Some in Australia have already been hit by big cost overruns, including projects backed by Chevron Corp. CVX -0.25% , ConocoPhillips, COP +0.06% Total SA FP.FR -0.15% and BG Group PLC. Others like those planned offshore Mozambique by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. APC +1.04% and Italy's Eni ENI.MI 0.00% SpA are awaiting a final go-ahead.
While the Russia deal and development of China's own shale reserves and offshore gas deposits may put some projects at risk, producers say things aren't that bad.
Peter Coleman, chief executive of Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Australia's biggest exporter of natural gas by volume, said Thursday that despite the Russia agreement, China will still need a lot of gas from various supply sources. "China's growth is coming off such a small base at the moment," he said. "It's got a lot of headroom in it."
The Russian gas isn't expected to reach China for at least four years, and by the end of the decade will amount to around 10% of China's supply.
Others say China will also still need to have a variety of energy importers given the sometimes tense relations between countries that can lead to trade disruptions.
Another potential major source of gas to China and Asia is Canada, where more than a dozen LNG export projects are planned. State-owned Chinese companies are heavily invested in some of the larger ones, including the Kitimat venture and one spearheaded by Malaysia's Petronas.
"I don't think there's a country in the world that today wants to depend on Russia as their sole supplier of natural gas," said Christy Clark, premier of Canada's gas-rich British Columbia province. "Providing the assurance that we are not going to play politics with energy—I think that's worth a lot to our potential partners out there, I think especially China."
Just how much China will pay Russia isn't clear, but Barclays BARC.LN +0.74% analysts say it could be around $350 per million standard cubic meters, making it slightly cheaper for Chinese consumers than imported gas from the existing Turkmenistan-China Central Asia pipeline, but more significantly, around 40% below the cost of LNG brought in by sea.
Asia's LNG spot price is currently around $13.7 per million metric British thermal units, compared with a U.S. Henry Hub price of $4.5 per mmBtu and $7.7 per mmBtu in the U.K.

Video:China and Russia sign 30-year gas deal

China: Unity vital for fighting violent terrorism

A serious violent terrorist attack happened in a morning market in Urumqi, the capital city of western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on Thursday. Two cars without license plates ploughed into busy crowds and then tossed explosives, killing 31 and injuring 94. The malicious incident has solicited a new round of shocks to public opinion.
The massive knife attack at Kunming railway station early March and the suicide bomb attack at Urumqi South train station make this incident all the more prominent. Chinese people are increasingly aware of and concerned about terrorist attacks.
Violent terrorism haunting Xinjiang has become more ferocious and obstinate than we expected and it is becoming a chronic challenge to our social governance. The causes of the terrorist attacks are perhaps so complicated and profound as to go beyond our traditional view.
We lack experience in cracking down on violent terrorism in today's highly open era. However, unity and action constitute the basic experience we need.
Unity means, first and foremost, we should accept the fact that we are living in an unfortunate stage mired by violent terrorism in China. Therefore, we need to add "anti-terrorist" elements to our life by making some adjustments. Though policy errors in the course of history partly contributed to the current plight, we must impede complaints and criticism from shaping public opinions on Xinjiang.
Catalysts for violent terrorism in China have spread, so we need to keep sober-minded. No matter how we adjust relevant policies and how many measures we take, we cannot ensure they will take immediate effects. If we are too impatient, we may flounder, doubt everything and finally lose confidence, thus leading to escalated chaos in ideology as well as social governance.
Amid the smooth decades of reform and opening up, most of the crises we have undergone were temporary and hence the spasmodic protracted conundrum of violent terrorism is quite strange to us.
Looking around the world, extremism notably separatism has resulted in countless tragedies such as state disintegration, civil war and mass genocide. Effective policies for intractable ethnic issues are difficult to find in Western countries as well.
Beset by violent terrorism in Xinjiang, we should clearly see it's an overall challenge to public security instead of "ethnic conflict" in a universal sense. Terrorists are a common enemy of all the Chinese people including Xinjiang residents.
It has been proved that governing Xinjiang is not an easy task and we should advance with the times and find major contradictions at present. We should give full play to the strong aspiration of the Uyghur people for sustained peace and a better life. They should play a major role in fighting violent terrorists who are just a handful of separatists.

China: President Xi vows severe punishment for terrorists

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to severely punish terrorists and spare no efforts in maintaining stability in response to Thursday morning's fatal explosions in Urumqi.
Police will step up patrols and security control over possible terrorist targets and prevent ripple effects, said Xi in a statement. Xi asked local authorities to solve the case fast, put the injured under proper care and offer condolences to families of the victims.
The Chinese government will continue to work hard in fighting terrorism and try its best to safeguard social stability, he said.
The explosions,which hit an open air market in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, have left 31 dead and more than 90 injured.
A working group led by Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun has left for Xinjiang to supervise the investigation and handle the aftermath.
So far all injured people have been sent to hospitals and police are pushing through the investigation, authorities said.

‘Arab Spring opened a Pandora's box of extreme Islamism’

The military rebellion that took place in Libya recently, planned and led by former general, Khalifa Hiftar, involved an assault on the nation’s parliament in Tripoli and on an Islamist organisation in Benghazi.
Hiftar, who defected to the US in the 1980s before returning to Libya to participate in the NATO-driven assault on the former Libyan leader and his government, has pledged to fight Islamist militants in Libya, who currently exert a major influence over the country’s fragile government.
Hiftar’s emergence at the head of a coalition of ex-Libyan army personnel and sympathetic tribal forces, in a country reduced to chaos after NATO’s military campaign led to Gaddafi’s downfall in 2011, is further evidence of a gathering backlash against Islamism and religious extremism throughout the Arab world. This wave of Islamist violence and terror has turned out to be the major beneficiary of the wave of uprisings which swept through the region starting in late 2010 and which came to be known as the Arab Spring.
Sadly, what began as a spontaneous mass movement of people no longer willing to exist within the stifling constraints imposed on their lives and aspirations by autocracy, having done so for decades, turned in on itself when its political and popular tide ran out in Libya and the West intervened to co-opt it as a proxy to advance its own geopolitical and regional agenda.
The consequent chaos and destabilization wrought in Libya, and later Syria, created a political vacuum that was filled by the forces of reaction, otherwise known as Sunni fundamentalism. The proliferation of this malignant ideology on the back of the Arab Spring has been a disastrous development for the region, plunging it into an abyss of sectarian and communal conflict in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, while growing in Africa and attracting more and more young Muslim men into its ranks across the world.
Many witnessing its growing influence over the past few years had considered its spread as further confirmation of the death of Arab nationalism as a counter hegemonic political force in the region; its high tide in the 1950s and 1960s responsible for spurring its economic and social development. A variety of factors resulted in the decline of Arab nationalism through succeeding decades, however, not least of which was the West’s success in blunting its potency, either via the use of proxies, such as Israel, or directly via the projection of military and economic power. Dark chapters To get an idea of what the Arab world would look like under the iron heel of Islamism, you only have to consider the tragedy to befall Afghanistan. In the sixties and seventies, Afghanistan benefited from the influence of Soviet-style planned economic development. The state control of economic development was a key factor in the success of the modernising governments that peppered the Arab world in the same period, involving the use of the region’s vast oil wealth to invest heavily in infrastructure, education, and industry. In Afghanistan secularism, women’s rights, education, freedom of religion, and modernity had created an urban society to compare with any when it came to modernity.
But, then, in response to a campaign waged by the Afghan government to extend the modernising reforms to the countryside, a campaign that involved an attempt to break the power of local Mullahs and clerics, a resistance movement began. Soon it attracted the support of the West, seizing the opportunity to undermine a Soviet ally, and soon became a cause celebre for Islamists throughout the world, descending on the country to wreak havoc.
The fate of Afghanistan after a bitter conflict lasting years is one that we are by now familiar with. What is important for us to understand today is that it is the same fate that awaits those nations across the Middle East which currently find themselves the subject of similar campaigns of Islamist terror – specifically Libya, Syria, and Iraq.
But, increasingly, the backlash created provides the region with hope of a resurgence of something approaching the Arab nationalism that once acted as a lynchpin and unifying political force, capable of bringing Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and every Arab minority under the same umbrella.
While the Syrian people and government remain locked in a brutal struggle with an invasion of Sunni fundamentalists intent on turning the country into a graveyard, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise on the back of the country’s first democratic elections since the toppling of the Mubarak dictatorship led straight to their demise. Millions of Egyptians poured back out onto the streets in late June-early July 2013, fearful of the direction which former president, Mohamed Morsi, and the Brotherhood were taking the country in. Events in Syria and Libya were clearly a prime factor in the determination and size of these protests, revealing the abiding suspicion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions in a society with strong secular and liberal traditions.
Step forward the Egyptian armed forces, led by their commander-in-chief, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi. Sisi’s intervention and forced removal of Mohamed Morsi from office, followed by the army’s ruthless suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in conjunction with the mass arrest of its leadership and supporters in the aftermath, has been popularly supported in Egypt. Likewise, Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Arab Army still enjoy popular support in Syria after three years of merciless violence has decimated large swathes of that country.
Increasingly, and in some cases at huge cost, Sunni fundamentalism and extremism is being resisted across the Arab world. Speed the day when it is reduced to nothing more than a dark chapter in the region’s history.

Pakistan: PPP Human Rights Cell Statement on Banning of Television Channel
The PPP Human Rights Cell has cautioned against banning of a Television Channel and instead called upon the Government to strengthen PEMRA to ensure that electronic channels abide by a code of conduct that should be effectively enforced and regulated.
“Resorting to a ban is censorship and there is no room for censorship in a democracy,” stated Dr Nafisa Shah, Central Coordinator of the PPP Human Rights Cell.
“While the Cell endorses that press and media must exercise responsibility and not run vilification campaigns, we will not be a party to curbs on media freedom.” She added.
It is a fact some electronic channels have run full scale campaigns, sometimes maligning national institutions, and constitutional positions and often jeopardizing national interest. This is both the fault of the regulator, PEMRA, and the inability of the channel owners to enforce the code of conduct. It is time that media community agree to abide by the code of conduct and maintain strict neutrality while covering events, noted the members in a meeting held to deliberate on the issue. The last PPP Government and its leaders were repeatedly made a victim of media trials, but the government including Prime Minister and President Zardari demonstrated patience and tolerated criticism .We are concerned that the Ministry of Information has failed to address the raging media wars, the lethal infighting between channels, and had become a bystander, which has led to the present impasse, the Cell members reiterated. On this occasion the members affirmed their commitment to democracy and called upon all political forces to resist any conspiracies against the democratic system.
Present in the meeting were Secretary General Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Yasmeen Rehman, ShahJehan Sarfraz.

Pakistan: Second day: Bombing in North Waziristan continues

Security forces bombed parts of North Waziristan for a second day on Thursday, Express News reported. A curfew was imposed in the agency as military aircraft targeted the hideouts of suspected militants in Miranshah. The offensive targeted the Matchis Camp, an area set up to house Afghan refugees but now a hub for local and foreign militants, Siraj Ahmed, the highest government official in the region, told Reuters by telephone.
Residents said helicopter gunships flattened houses and compounds in Matchis Camp while ground forces surrounded the area. Pakistani-made surveillance drones also hovered over the area all morning, the first time the country has launched unmanned aircraft.
“We announced yesterday that people should leave the area,” Ahmed said. “This morning, tanks moved in and helicopter ships began demolishing houses in the Matchis camp area.”
The Pakistan government signed an unofficial non-aggression pact with pro-government militants in the area in 2007 and there has been no ground offensive in the area since.
The military’s media wing could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday’s ground offensive but intelligence and government officials said troops were moving from three directions and some clashes had erupted with militants. “The offensive could be the army’s toughest test in years,” a senior military official said.
Foreign militants from various places including Central Asia have long been known to be based in the region.
On May 21, warplanes had bombed suspected hideouts of militants in North Waziristan, killing and wounding dozens of militants.
In pre-dawn strikes, fighter jets and helicopter gunships had raided targets in Miramshah, Mir Ali, Datta Khel, Ghulam Khan and Spen Wam tehsils of North Waziristan, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). At least 60 hardcore militants, including some key commanders and foreigners, were killed and around 30 wounded, it had claimed. The identity of most of the dead could not be verified independently, but two of the dead commanders were identified as Mosa Khan Mehsud and Sabir Mehsud.
In the afternoon yesterday, five security personnel were killed and seven injured in a clash with militants in the Mir Ali Bazaar area. According to an official, the clash had taken place during a search operation by security forces. He had stated that one army major was among the fatalities. In a retaliatory action by security forces, at least 13 militants were killed, he had added.


By Vikram Sood
In a girls’ Islamic school in Islamabad, now there is now a library that has been named after Osama bin Laden. Elsewhere in Islamabad, a mosque has been named after Mumtaz Qadri, who shot and killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer three years ago.
Taseer’s son remains in captivity of terrorists for two years now. Authorities in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa have removed chapters on Bacha Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) the noted Pakhtoon leader and his poet son, Ghani Khan from the history syllabus in schools.
Ghaffar Khan, an associate of Mahatma Gandhi and known as the Frontier Gandhi for his beliefs in non violence and his poet-philosopher son were presumably targets of radical elements. Rashid Rehman Khan, a lawyer and human rights’ activist, was shot dead in Multan on May 7 because he supported those accused of blasphemy while the mother of a young polio victim was gunned down by the Taliban in Karachi.
One of Pakistan’s best known journalists, Hamid Mir survived six bullets pumped into him for daring to talk about missing persons of Balochistan despite being warned against doing this, while another journalist, Raza Rumi escaped an assassination attempt a few weeks ago. Bigotry and intolerance appear triumphant.
While there has been considerable commentary in Pakistan about what happened to Hamid Mir, there is silence about the fast unto death by a young Baloch Latif Johar who has been seeking the release of Zahid Baloch, Chairman of the Baloch Students’ Organisation, who was abducted from Quetta on March 18, 2014.
Johar’s statement announcing his fast is evocative. He said “I am a student. Studying, writing, learning, exploring are my hobbies. But all of this has become impossible for me, thanks to Pakistan. My friends disappear and end up dead, dumped on empty street-sides with blood-curdling scars on their bodies. My schools and colleges are turned into cozy military barracks. Uniformed men with guns surround the playground where school kids would circle not so long ago. Libraries closed and librarians ‘missing,’ they say.” …. He adds “This quiet but peaceful struggle will continue till my last breath. I want to make it clear to the world that we strongly believe in a peaceful struggle which is why I am here willing to give up my own life for my nation rather than taking anyone else’s.”
Johar began his hunger strike on April 22 and his health is sinking but there has been no reaction from the authorities. There has bee hardly any coverage in the media barring one recent article in the Friday Times and he is not fasting in some remote part of Balochistan like Turbat or Kech but outside the Press Club.
The advisory that Hamid Mir had apparently not followed is being carefully observed by politicians, liberal thinkers and writers and all sections of the mainstream media. They are now more willing to talk about the girls that Boko Haram kidnapped in Nigeria than the Baloch boys that have disappeared, now believed tortured and killed
The world also does not care but there are some expatriate Baloch who have carried out their campaign on the social media and accessible to all those interested in knowing what might be happening in Balochistan.
On any given day, there are heartrending stories and only the strong can see some of the photographs of torture and killings of the Baloch. Although Pakistan authorities have fairly succeeded in converting Balochistan into a virtual padded cell, some screams do make their way to the outside world.
There are a few exceptions to this global silence. For instance, in the preface to her book, ‘The Wrong Enemy’ Carlotta Gal says ‘In Balochistan, where the Pakistani military was waging a dirty war against Baloch nationalist rebels, disappearances of journalists and political activists were common.
Hundreds of Baloch were missing or detained. Many turned up dead. Cases of extra-judicial killings by Pakistani security forces became so frequent from 2006 to 2013 that human rights organisations described the practice as “kill and dump.” She goes on to say “The ISI in particular was responsible for picking and threatening local journalists all over the country…… ”
The Baloch voice remains muted in Pakistan and Balochistan; the rest of the world is too engrossed in Iran, Syria and Ukraine; the only interest is to vacate Afghanistan and Pakistan must be humoured till that happens and Indians are far too self-engrossed to think of anything else but their own elections.
Besides we seem too defensive that talking about human rights abuses in our neighbourhood would tantamount interference. This goes to the extent of not even talking about what is happening to Hindu families in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. Even so, Baloch expatriates, the few that there are in Europe and Canada have been staging protests is Berlin, London and Toronto. In recent days one can discern that the number of protests are spreading inside Pakistan.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there have been 292 enforced disappearances from Makran since 2004 that could be confirmed. However, the figure could be as high as 500. As many as 100 were found tortured and dumped, 150 detainees were released while 48 were still missing in April 2014.
In 2013 as many as 116 bodies were found across Balochistan of which 87 were identified by families who accused Pakistan’s security agencies of perpetrating these atrocities. Strong arm methods mostly by the Frontier Corps and the Army to control the insurgency in Balochistan including the killing of innocent Shia Hazaras by Sunni militants of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, a.k.a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have added to the sectarian conflicts apart from the Punjabi- Baloch problems.
The present phase of insurgency has been gathering momentum after the murder of Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006. A recent example of this was the bomb-attack on the Rawalpindi-bound train at Sibi in early April killing 17 and injuring 46 others.
Explosives had been used, gas cylinders aboard the train aggravated the destruction and three bogies were gutted. Meanwhile, an Army operation, backed by the PAF jets and helicopter gun ships, was launched in the Mashky region of Awaran district in May, killing at least ten Baloch. Pakistani forces abducted persons from Panjgur, Dera Bugti and from the outskirts of Quetta, according to Baloch sources.
The Asian Human Rights Commission, citing BBC reports, has also urged that there were military operations in April in different parts of Balochistan and in the aerial attacks, 100 innocent people, including women and children were killed.
Despite all these detailed reports about disappearances and killings being available, including the discovery of a mass grave of more than 100 bodies three months ago, there has been very infrequent and scanty coverage in the international press and none in the Indian press.
The level of distrust among the Baloch and Pakistan’s rulers is so deep and the gulf between them so wide that many Baloch nationalists feel that any effort to bring peace between the Baloch and the Pakistani state must have international guarantors. For that to happen there has to be international interest in the plight of the Baloch.
The image that emerges is that of a country whose rulers are becoming increasingly autocratic, whose military systems control the media through ruthless means, whose society is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and Islamic.
There are increasing pressures from militant sectarian groups who also function against ethnic minorities. Simultaneously there is a perceptible weakening of the liberal class with nowhere to go and this has been brought out some courageous analysts, and eminent journalists in Pakistan.
It may be argued by some that the extremist radical element is only a fringe element but that is not how it looks from the outside when the State is unable to either militarily defeat the radicals who indulge in violence or unable to make peace with them on its terms.

Pakistan: Murder in the name of faith

By Zahid Hussain
THE fate of 65-year-old Khalil Ahmed was sealed on the day he was accused of blasphemy. It was his death warrant. He was killed while in police detention hours after he was arrested.
A schoolboy, who has not been identified by name, reportedly walked into the police station and shot Ahmed dead in full view of the officers. What motivated the teenager to commit this cold -blooded murder?
Perhaps he was inspired by the glorification of other murders committed for alleged blasphemy. Or perhaps he was incited by some zealot. The young boy had been growing up watching Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of governor Salmaan Taseer, being garlanded. Qadri also had a mosque outside the capital named after him, and his larger-than-life portraits adorn certain public places. The young killer might have been told that the same glory awaited him.
He is the product of a society that condones vigilantism and exalts murder committed in the name of religion; the guardians of the law are too afraid to act against the ‘holy killers’. It is a country where a judge had to flee abroad after convicting Qadri. No wonder the Islamabad High Court is reluctant to validate the conviction.
It was the second murder involving the blasphemy issue in a span of a few days. The murderers of rights activist Rashid Rehman have not yet been apprehended despite his having named those who threatened him. Even if arrested, they may never be convicted, thus encouraging other potential ‘holy murderers’.
In Ahmed’s case, it was shocking that the murderer could walk into a police station, and not be stopped from killing a detainee. The incident in a central Punjab village not far from Lahore was not a breaking story and was underplayed by most of the print media, maybe because the victim was Ahmadi.
Ahmed along with three others was reportedly arrested on blasphemy charges after an altercation with a local shopkeeper. Being members of a persecuted religious minority makes Ahmadis more vulnerable to concocted charges, which gives bigots a licence to kill. In this environment the young murderer is not an aberration.
All this started when the state took upon itself the responsibility of deciding who is Muslim and who is not and legalising religious persecution. A corollary of this is that individuals too have now taken up the right to give verdicts on the religious beliefs of others. The mullahs have become custodians of the law as the state’s authority is fast eroding.
In fact, the blasphemy law has become a weapon of persecution and even those defending the accused are deemed liable. Some time ago, a blasphemy case was filed against former information minister Sherry Rehman for suggesting some procedural changes in the law in the National Assembly.
A glaring example of the gross misuse of the law was witnessed last week when 68 lawyers were booked on blasphemy charges for chanting slogans against a police officer whose name happened to be Omar. The sword of Damocles hangs over every Pakistani citizen, much more so over religious minorities. It is a death warrant once you are accused of blasphemy.
It is despicable the way the blasphemy law is being used in the ongoing media war between rival channels who have filed cases of blasphemy against each other. There is no dearth of instances where clerics are ‘rented’ to get a fatwa to declare the other channel un-Islamic.
Mullahs are having a field day dominating the television screen. What the TV channels do not realise is that no one will come out unscathed in this dirty war. It is the hard-won media freedom that is now under threat. The fear now is that radical clerics will decide what should appear on TV programmes.
This war of fatwas presents a serious threat to the lives of some TV hosts and employees, forcing them to go into hiding or even to flee the country. This fragmented, dysfunctional state cannot protect the lives of those coming in the crossfire.
The role of some security and intelligence agencies in fuelling the hate campaign for settling scores with critics is despicable. Use of religion for proxy wars by state institutions is an extremely dangerous game giving more space to the extremists. Resultantly, the radical clerics are once again taking centre stage in the ongoing political circus. One can see them leading pro-military rallies holding larger-than-life portraits of the ISI and army chiefs and spewing their toxic narratives on television screens.
Surely they are trying to seize this opportunity to raise the stakes and sell their services to the highest bidders. The tension between civilians and the military, and their proxy war through the media, has further empowered extremist religious groups and clerics. This situation will breed more violence in society.
This atmosphere not only produces more child suicide bombers but also teenaged killers like the one who shot Khalil Ahmed. Religious extremism and growing intolerance has polarised and fragmented the country making it increasingly difficult to have rational discourse on religion and other important issues.
Worse still is the failure of the state to deal with this highly dangerous situation. What we are witnessing today is the unravelling of the state. The use of religion and extremist mullahs as a proxy in the power game is a destructive trend that is threatening the unity of the country.

Pakistan: PM gets two BMWs amid austerity claims

It seems the much-touted ‘austerity measures’ – a popular buzzword among government functionaries – are only meant for the general public.
Dawn has learnt that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has recently acquired two bullet-proof vehicles for his security, cars that have cost the national exchequer over Rs224 million. According to documents available with Dawn, the cars will be used for the prime minister’s private security detail.
The BMW 760Li High Security sedans cost Rs119.742 million and Rs124.995 million, including heads such as custom duty, sales tax, shipping and miscellaneous charges. However, on the orders of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is considering the purchase ‘a special case’ and is readily offering tax exemptions.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (b) sub-section (2) section 13 of the Sales Tax Act, 1990, the Federal Board of Revenue is pleased to exempt sales taxes on the two vehicles as a special case,” says an FBR notification issued in response to Dar’s directions.
In his earlier letter to FBR, the finance minister stated that “in view of the austerity measures, it would be desirable that customs and sales tax on these vehicles be exempted which will considerably save the cost”.
Bullet-proof sedans cost Rs224m; Dar approves tax exemptions
According to a government official privy to the acquisition of the vehicles, Mr Dar’s involvement in the case was unusual. Normally, the relevant department writes to FBR regarding exemptions.
In this particular case, a summary was moved by the director general of the Intelligence Bureau and sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, which demanded two high-security vehicles for the PM’s security detail.
The Prime Minister’s Office approved the purchase and the finance minister stepped in to seek tax exemptions from the FBR.
Despite repeated attempts, Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid, who is also the PM’s official spokesperson, couldn’t be reached for comment.
However, the minister’s public reaction to similar procurement orders given by the Pakistan People’s Party’s former PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is on the record, where Mr Rashid had criticised the then-government for “lavish purchases during an economic crisis”.
He even had said that the vehicles in the prime minister’s fleet had a long life because of good maintenance. Therefore, there is no need to replace them or add more vehicles to the fleet.
The Cabinet Division’s Central Pool of Car (CPC), which manages the fleet of cars used by the Prime Minister’s Office, refused to disclose any information. An official privy to the action said that this was classified information, but admitted that the CPC possessed enough vehicles to meet VVIP duty requirements.
Under the rules, all former prime ministers are provided government-maintained bullet proof vehicles. former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had to seek orders from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to obtain one for security reasons.
He is the only public servant who has been extended this facility.

Pakistan's Geo News becomes latest target in blasphemy accusation trend

Jon Boone
Widespread calls for popular TV channel to be shut down after using Sufi song on broadcast of mock celebrity wedding
Young children, religious minorities and people with mental health problems have all been accused of the crime of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Now the country's most popular television station has shown that even one of Pakistan's most powerful institutions is not immune from a growing trend.
Ever since Geo News was accused of airing blasphemous material on one of its morning shows last week the channel has taken extraordinary security precautions, including removing its corporate branding from the side of its broadcast trucks.
"It's a very dangerous situation because it puts all our staff at risk," said Imran Aslam, president of the channel. "This is not just about the destruction of property or the shutting down of the channel, but lives."
For weeks Geo, which is part of a conglomerate that also owns leading newspapers, has been at the centre of a media and political storm, with the country's spy agency – the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate – and opposition politician Imran Khan calling for it to be shut down.
The ISI was furious after Geo carried accusations that the agency was behind the attempted killing of the channel's star journalist Hamid Mir last month. Khan has accused the company of helping to rig last year's general election.
But the situation became more serious on Friday when clerics across Pakistan condemned GEO for broadcasting a staged "wedding" of two celebrities on its morning show.
The problem was not the involvement of Veena Malik – an actor who once scandalised the country by appearing nude on the cover Indian FHM magazine with "ISI" written on her arm. Instead offence was taken at the performance of a Sufi song about the marriage of Muhammad's daughter – a popular element to many ordinary weddings in Pakistan – and that a comparison was being drawn with Malik.
Many fundamentalist Islamic sects take a dim view of Sufi culture, which often revolves around singing, poetry and visiting the shrines of holy men.
Geo responded with full-page apologies in its newspapers and the suspension of all the staff involved in the programme.
But that has failed to stop angry demonstrations around the country, including a lawyers' strike called by bar associations. A legal petition against the channel has been accepted by the Islamabad high court.
That such a frivolous bit of daytime television, similar to many other shows, could cause widespread outrage highlights the growing sensitivity around perceived insults to Islam, which can now be found almost anywhere in Pakistan. On 13 May, police arrested and charged 68 lawyers for blasphemy after they held a public protest and chanted slogans against a police officer whose first name happened to be the same as a revered figure in early Islam.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws have long been used to settle scores and financial grievances, particularly against religious minorities who often cannot defend themselves because lawyers are reluctant to represent them and because evidence cannot be properly scrutinised in court for fear of repeating the alleged blasphemy.
This year an elderly British-Pakistani man diagnosed with schizophrenia was sentenced to death in a blasphemy case brought by a man with whom he was in a property dispute.
In 2012 a 13-year-old Christian girl who reportedly had Down's syndrome was arrested in Islamabad after she was accused of burning pages of the Qu'ran.
She became one of the very few blasphemy suspects to be released after men from the local mosque came forward to testify that the mullah had planted the evidence on her as part of his campaign to force out the Christian community. Although leading human rights organisations have all called for laws to be repealed, public criticism of the legislation can itself be seen as a form of blasphemy.
On Wednesday the Express Tribune deleted an article on the subject in the international edition of the New York Times, which it carries as a daily insert.
The opinion piece by Lahore-based author Ali Sethi discussed the case of Rashid Rehman, a human rights activist who was shot dead in his office on 7 May after daring to take on the legal case of a young academic accused of publishing blasphemous material on Facebook.
One of the most famous people to publicly criticise the laws was former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was gunned down by his bodyguard.
The killer Mumtaz Qadri has been feted in many quarters, including by lawyers, and a mosque in Islamabad has been named in his honour.

The battle for Pakistan’s Geo TV

The failed attempt by some members of Pakistan's media regulator to take Geo news off air was farcical - but there is nothing funny about the battle over the channel's future.
Pakistan's once most-watched television channel, with the country's largest newsgathering network, has lost more than 80% of its viewers in less than a month, a Geo official says.
There is no way to substantiate that claim at the moment, but there are signs that he may not be entirely wrong.
Geo is off the menu of most cable TV providers in military cantonment areas across Pakistan, while those operating elsewhere have moved it to near the bottom of their channel list where signals are often weak. This has come in the wake of a series of events in which Geo has been accused of unprofessional conduct by the military, blasphemy by the religious lobby and treachery by its business rivals. A top opposition leader and former cricketer, Imran Khan, has gone to the extent of accusing the channel of helping Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rig the May 2013 elections.
He is presently conducting a vociferous street campaign to call the credibility of elections into question.
On Tuesday, Geo miraculously survived what many saw as a death blow when Pakistan's media regulator Pemra had to quash a decision of some of its own members, made hours earlier, to suspend the channel's licence.
Army anger
Many say this bizarre split within Pemra may actually be symptomatic of a new phase in the tug-of-war between the country's civilian and military leaderships that has been going on since 2008, when democracy was restored. The trigger for this latest episode came on 19 April when a high-profile Geo reporter, Hamid Mir, was shot and injured in an ambush in Karachi. Both he and his channel said Pakistan's feared ISI intelligence service were responsible for the attack. The military issued a terse denial, then went to Pemra through the defence ministry to cancel Geo's licence for defaming a state institution.
Mysteriously, before Pemra could decide on the matter, cable operators across the country started to either drop Geo from their menus, or move it to the bottom of the list. Also, religious groups sympathetic to Taliban militants hit the streets in support of the ISI, calling Geo a traitor and demanding its demise.
At the same time, some rival TV channels also started taking pot shots at Geo, accusing it of promoting the interests of the United States and India - two countries that most vocal right-wing or pro-military groups in Pakistan like to paint as the enemy.Elsewhere, the issue led to a wider debate about the passing of editorial controls from professional journalists to media owners, a trend set by none other than Geo itself but which is now endemic to most media groups. Many say a professional editor would have handled the 19 April attack on Hamid Mir differently.
'Blasphemy' row
Geo made another error of judgment on 14 May when its flagship morning show Utho Jago Pakistan (Get up, wake up Pakistan) tried to mix "sensitive religious material with crass entertainment", as an editorial in Dawn newspaper put it. On this two-hour show, a religious hymn describing the wedding of Prophet Mohammad's daughter to the fourth Caliph, Ali, was played during the enactment of the wedding of a controversial Pakistani actress, Veena Malik.
The right-wing lobby, which blamed Ms Malik for a topless photo shoot in India two years ago, was up in arms, and a case was lodged against Geo and its female show host, Shaista Lodhi, under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law.
The split in Pemra comes against this backdrop, and for many it represents the split between the civil and military leadership. The military wants to "teach Geo a lesson" in order to silence its critics in the media, analysts say, but the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would not like to be seen as undermining democracy and the freedom of expression. He also needs some criticism of the military to create space for his own government, they say.
Media divided
The military has ruled Pakistan directly or through a combination of political proxies and legal entrapments for most of its 67 years since independence. Its tensions with the previous PPP government in 2008 started when the government tried to bring the ISI under civilian control. A number of subsequent moves by the military and the judiciary led to the almost total incapacitation of that government, analysts say. These moves undermined Pakistan's smooth economic and security relations with the US, embroiled the government in a diplomatic row known as the Memogate scandal and led to the sacking of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani by the Supreme Court. After Prime Minister Sharif came to power in 2013, he took a gamble with the military when he decided to charge former army chief and president, General Pervez Musharraf, with high treason. Geo and many other news channels took a clear position against the military on that issue. With Geo in the dock, the media stands divided, and anti-Geo protests across the country continue unabated. Pemra will next meet on 28 May to consider the ISI's complaint against Geo and is likely to come to a decision. What it chooses to do will reflect the extent to which Mr Sharif is willing to withstand the pressure from the lobbies that want Geo's head.

Pakistan: The Pemra puzzle

The forces arrayed against the Jang/Geo Group may again have overplayed their hand. At this juncture they are now even trying to hide the fact that they are illegally orchestrating events. It would be comical were the outcome not so frightening for the future of a free media in the country. Three members of Pemra, obviously given their marching orders by the powers-that-be, decided to vote in favour of cancelling three of Geo’s licences. The vote was as farcical as those usually held by unaccountable dictators. The three moral pygmies of Pemra – Asrar Abbasi, Mian Shams and Fareeha Iftikhar – should be remembered as collaborators in the efforts to snatch away our democracy and freedom. Had these people read the Pemra Rules, 2009, they would have come across a clause clearly stating that a meeting of the regulatory body can only be called by its chairman, or a majority of its 12 members. Their actions were so blatantly illegal that they could not even hold this pre-ordained vote at the Pemra headquarters, having to do so near the regulator’s headquarters. Pemra itself – or at least the vast majority of its members – has condemned the decision. The illegal licence cancellation then never happened, and a spokesman for Pemra quickly distanced the body from the entire episode, stating that any final decision would, as decided previously, only come at the May 28 meeting of the authority. The matter has already been referred for legal advice to the relevant ministries and the Council of Complaints in Sindh has already submitted an opinion on the matter of blasphemy. This will be put before Pemra.
The problem, of course, is that fear is so great that cable companies have pre-emptively decided to take Geo off the air. Geo has vanished from the airwaves in 90 percent of areas across the country, also because it has been pushed down so low on the order of channels by operators that it is inaccessible on older television sets and in many rural areas. The fact that this has happened, in complete violation of laid-down procedures, highlights the need to ensure that the media regulatory body can be run effectively, efficiently and legally. Now that Pemra has unequivocally spoken, the cable companies should restore the channels immediately. The media is a hugely important institution; it is central to lives and to people’s constitutionally protected right to know and to access information. The witch hunt directed against Jang and Geo is reminiscent of the events in the town of Salem in 1692, when mass hysteria, fuelled for ulterior motives, overtook logic. Many elements have combined to try and burn Geo at the stake – without going through any process of law. As a result, lives have been endangered; attacks have already been reported on Geo’s vehicles, and the fear is that there is more to come. The persecution continues with the maverick action by three Pemra members only adding to the mess. So many of us remain unable to see the bigger picture, to visualise what such precedents mean, and that puts us in a truly precarious position, as we watch insanity unfold.

Pakistan: Time to take out TTP

There are deep dissensions among the Taliban leading to infighting that has already taken toll of nearly 60 fighters. The TTP spokesman Shahidulah Shahid, who never missed an opportunity to talk to the media, has gone into hibernation. TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah remains holed up in eastern Afghanistan since he was forced to run for his life from Swat six years back. What is more he is considered an outsider by the Mehsuds who constitute the core group of the TTP. The negative factors have badly affected the performance of the terrorist umbrella organisation. This provides a golden opportunity to the army to put an end to the terrorist threat once for all. The confusion and demoralisation prevailing in the TTP ranks have reduced the frequency and the enormity of terrorist attacks. With South Waziristan turning into a battleground between two warring groups of the militants, the supply of suicide bombers has been drastically reduced. Unlike a highly energetic and colourful Hakimullah Mehsud who knew how to manipulate media, the new TTP chief remains an ineffective recluse. Deprived of his local FM channel, the erstwhile Mullah Radio has lost a facility that he once used to produce enormous effect.
Suffering from a shortage of suicide bombers the TTP is now launching attacks through less effective conventional methods. The blast outside Rangers office in Karachi injured a few on Wednesday. There were more casualties in the attacks on Islamabad court and the fruit market in the twin cities. The government is however gradually improving the intelligence system and is often able to forewarn the administration about such attacks.
Peace talks have become irrelevant now. They can only yield results after the bulk of the leadership and cadre of the TTP is taken out and the network is forced to sue for peace on terms dictated by the government. Initiation of talks with the TTP at this stage would amount to providing them a breathing space and an opportunity to overcome their shortcoming. The operation conducted in North Waziristan on Wednesday needs to be extended to all tribal areas wherever actionable intelligence about militant gatherings is available.
There is also a need to coordinate with the next Afghan government and ISAF troops to finish off terrorist groups on both sides of the Durand Line. A hammer-and-anvil type operation is required to flush them out from their sanctuaries. It is only through joint actions of the sort that terrorists like Fazlullah and Khalid Omar Khorasani can be taken care of.

How We Should Protect Girls’ Schools in Balochistan

Malik Siraj Akbar
A couple of recent attacks on private schools and a widely circulated threatening letter from a covert religious extremist group has triggered restlessness among school administrators, female student and their parents in Panjgur district. A relatively unknown religious extremist group has asked all private schools to stop educating girls. The reason provided by the armed group is the same as used across the world by extremist outfits to justify banning girls’ education: the “corrupting influence” western education causes on girls’ character.
These warnings are alarming considering that fact that Panjgur has remained one of Balochistan’s more advanced places in terms of education. A number of private schools run by local teachers and administrators have earned a great reputation for impartial quality education among male and female students in the Pakistan-Iran bordering town.
The warnings to the schools come in the wake of a robust military operation conducted by the Frontier Corps and its affiliated paramilitary partners in the district against what the F.C. describes as “Baloch militants”. (It’s illegal and unacceptable to call anyone a “militant” or a “terrorist” until proven guilty by a court of law and that principle is being flagrantly violated in Panjgur). In one such fresh attack, the F.C. Killed 10 local residents.
Hence, the issue of threats to private schools fails to gain ample attention of the local authorities and community leaders amid a massive confrontation between the security forces and the Baloch nationalists.
The threat to women’s education was not entirely unexpected considering the Pakistani government’s robust efforts to promote radical Islam as a tool to fight Baloch nationalism that has rapidly penetrated in the area.
What eventually happened was the logical culmination of support for extremist Islam. Whenever and wherever extremist religious movements have emerged, women’s rights, their mobility and access to education have become the first casualty. The groups that are seeking an end to girls’ education in Panjgur seem to have an agenda beyond stopping girls’ education. If they are not discouraged and disrupted at this point, they will emerge as a potential threat to the Baloch society.
Any calls against girls’ education are absolutely unacceptable and it is the responsibility of the Balochistan government to take immediate notice of these threats. Panjgur is the home district of Mr. Sabir Baloch, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan and Mr. Rehmat Baloch, Balochistan’s Health Minister. These senior officials should play their role in immediately addressing the matter.
In February 2010, this newspaper, after speaking to the heads of a private school in Gwadar, reported similar threats from a Baloch nationalist group that had described co-education at private schools contradictory to the Baloch code of conduct. Once the society at large denounced such a conservative approach adopted by the nationalists, the armed group was immediately compelled to disown its approach and make a public statement saying that it had not issued such a warning in the first place.
While Baloch nationalists have not been hostile to girls’ education, the very concept of “Baloch honor” has oftentimes obstructed women’s access to education and freedom. The use of religion and nationalism to contain women’s access to education and mobility is both dangerous. Had the Baloch nationalists included women’s education and empowerment among their core values (such as ‘freedom”, “justice” etc.), Baloch women richly benefit from the ongoing nationalist movement.
The only antidote to religious restrictions on women’s education is to include women’s rights and powers as a core component of the Baloch progressive philosophy. The more we glorify and champion the cause of women’s education, equal right to employment and socio-economic empowerment, the more we will provide our society with a viable mechanism to thwart obscurantist ambitions. The future of Baloch progress and prosperity heavily depends on education and empowerment of our women and we must keep it on the top of the list of our social and political responsibilities.

Pakistan: Poor State of Education in Balochistan

By Bahram Sayad
Though Balochistan is the richest province of Pakistan since it contains mineral resources in the shape of marble, coal, oil, gold copper, natural gas and a 750 km long coastal build but still the province is deprived of supports from all types of social, economic and political crisis.
The incidence of poverty is higher than anywhere else in Pakistan, even though it is rich in mineral wealth. Over 50 per cent of the population subsists below the poverty line. However, today education is emerged as the most essential issue of the province.
No doubt, educational system in Balochistan is more backward than other province of Pakistan. According to a report published in Dawn, that more than half of the residents of the province are deprived of education, because the province also has the lowest numbers of educational institutions. In total number of institutions in the country, 48 per cent are in Punjab, 22 in Sindh, 17 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and only five percent are in Balochistan, even though out of these five per cent of institutions there is not a single institution where students are getting proper and quality education.
Moreover, the state of education in our province has remained the same for the last 20 or 30 years. Our education standards are not comparable to that of any single province in Pakistan. I would like to put ice to the deep wounds that the province Balochistan needs educational academies, not military garrisons, it needs educationists, not military operations, and it needs education, not war.
There poor condition of education sector in Balochistan needs attention of the ministry of education and the government of Pakistan to take notice of this deteriorating situation of education in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s Boko Haram

Malik Siraj Akbar
While Pakistan's federal government continues to give in to the Taliban pressure, women and school children in one small Pakistan-Iran border town in southwestern Balochistan province are offering unprecedented resistance against calls by Islamic extremists to shut down girls' schools. Pakistan has featured in the recent times in the western media for attacks on girls' education, destruction of schools and the murder attempt on teenaged education crusader Malala Yousafzai.
The public awakening in the town of Panjgur, on the contrary, has barely received any attention in Pakistan's mainstream media or the international Press. The developments in Panjgur epitomize a rare but organized community-based battle for protecting girls' right to education. The rise of Islamic extremists in the secular Baloch province, which I had predicted in 2009, is deeply alarming but the local population's uprising against the detractors of girls' education simultaneously provides tremendous hope for a community that is being rapidly radicalized by the Pakistani government in an attempt to trade an ongoing left-wing independence movement with radical Islam.
When I was growing up in Panjgur in 1990s, it was absolutely inconceivable to think about giving the clergymen a share in the social and political decision-making process. The role of the clergyman, locally known as the mullah, was clearly defined and restricted to the mosque. The biggest audience the mullah would ever attract was the weekly one-hour long Friday prayers but the mosque-goers were almost always sure that what they learned from the mullah in the mosque should always stay within the mosque. The other two occasions when the society agreed to give the mullah the leadership role were funerals and wedding ceremonies which would also last for less than one hour. Beyond these scant leadership opportunities, the clergy enjoyed no influence on our lives as it struggled for its survival while remaining the weakest segment of the economic stratum.
I vividly remember the days when my mother would regularly keep a portion of our meal for the students of the neighboring religious school while my grandfather, Malik Mohammad Tahir, an assertive local transporter-cum-community-leader, would warn us that feeding mullahs amounted to feeding poisonous snakes. My grandfather was a practicing Muslim but he, just like most Baloch people, never voted for a religious political party. He used to warn that the economic empowerment of the clergy would lead to their political rise and ultimately threaten the Baloch values and interests. I was amazed how my grandfather tightly kept religion a private matter between him and his creator. He was averse to Arab influences on local practices. He also detested Islamic preachers who predominantly came from Pakistan's Punjab province, often with a background in the middle ranks of the army, to transform the local population into "better [read radical] Muslims".
My grandfather was very smart to read between the lines and assess the motivations and consequences of a powerful religious lobby in an area that that had aggressively guarded people's privacy against tribalism and religion. One day, he chased out a mullah who tried to drop a free copy of Zarb-e-Momin, a Jihadist weekly newspaper, outside our door, warning to break his legs if he ever distributed that toxic literature in our town. The mullah never showed up. My grandfather, a vanguard against religious extremism --- just like many other people of his age--- passed away in 2010. The Mullahs returned. With substantial funding from oil-rich Arab countries and political support from the Pakistani military, the mullahs instantly captured significant space in the society. They no longer go to people's doors to beg for food. The mullahs live in multi-million houses and travel in chauffeur-driven limousine. With newly gained authority, they are now asserting their power by attacking girls' education.
Two weeks ago, Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan, a hitherto unknown underground extremist group warned all private schools to stop educating female students because the organization views assimilation of boys with girls "un-Islamic". Fearful of attacks, some schools immediately stopped teaching girls after the circulation of a threatening letter but others seemed to have waited for a real attack to see whether or not these warnings were actually genuine. On May 14, armed men beat up the head of a private school in Panjgur. They burned the school van and vanished in thin air flashing the victory sign.
The Pakistani government has not moved swiftly to provide protection to the threatened private schools, teachers and students. Those who are threatening girls' education are still at large and able to instill fear among little girls. Teachers and parents are risking their lives to fight the opponents of girls' education. Balochistan is Pakistan's least educated province. It urgently requires national and international intervention and assistance in the field of education, mainly for girls. The province cannot afford to shut down its schools for girls. The fight for girls' education is too big to be solely fought by the civil society and members of the community. The State has to play a biased role by siding with the students, not the extremists.
In grand protests joined by thousands of people to fight back against religious extremists, the people of Balochistan have given their judgment: there is no room for Boko Haram in Balochistan. The Pakistani government should now hear the people's verdict and fulfil its responsibilities.

Pakistan: Private schools stay closed in Turbat, Panjgur after threats by extremists

A grand jirga will be held in Panjgur on Thursday to deliberate on the closure of private schools and English language centres after threats hurled by a religious group.
The jirga will be attended by people of all walks of life, including political and religious leaders, members of civil society, teachers, elders and women.
“The jirga will discuss the issue in detail and announce future line of action in view of threats being hurled by (a hitherto) unknown religious organisation to owners and managements of private schools,” Zahir Hussain Baloch, an educationist running a private school in Panjgur, told Dawn.
All private schools and English language centres have been closed in Turbat in Panjgur because owners are receiving threats from an extremist organisation called “Tenzeem Islami-al-Furqan”.
“The organisation is asking owners to stop educating girls at their institutions. We had no other option but to close our schools and language centres,” he said.

Pakistan among ‘most corrupt’ countries

South Asia is the most corrupt region of the world and governments must strengthen their anti-graft agencies to prevent political interference and protect whistleblowers, Transparency International said Wednesday.
The watchdog group found serious problems with anti-corruption efforts in Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“South Asia now is the worst region in the world when it comes to corruption based on our studies,” said Srirak Plipat, the group's regional director for Asia Pacific.
All six countries have public bodies charged with stopping corruption, but “their hands are tied by political control over the staff appointments and budget,” the group said in a report.
“The lack of political will on the part of the governments to make laws work means that government action to fight corruption is largely ineffective,” the report added.
The group urged the governments of the six countries to strengthen their anti-corruption agencies and judiciary by ensuring that appointments, transfers and removal of the heads of the agencies are conducted independently.
The report also said that political interference means that the agencies are selective in conducting investigations, and in most of South Asia are powerless because they need government approval before starting a probe.
In Nepal in 2013 the chief justice of the Supreme Court was appointed prime minister, which Transparency International said blurred the line between executive and judicial powers. Khil Raj Regmi did not resign from his judicial position, although he stopped hearing cases. In Bangladesh, the government has appointed 48 judges to the Supreme Court since 2009.
Pakistan is discussing a right to information law but in Sri Lanka this is non-existent, the report said.
It said India has been making attempts to dilute its right to information law, which currently is one of the strongest in the world.
Plipat said Transparency International will monitor India's newly elected government to see if it follows its promise of cleaning up graft.
He said the Indian government should implement an Ombudsman Act that was passed by Parliament last year and also push other anti-corruption bills, including amending whistleblower laws to protect people in the private sector.

Pakistan: Opposition & Allied parties termed federal govt’s budget strategy ‘sketchy
opposition & allied parties termed federal govt’s budget strategy ‘sketchy & wishful thinking’ while criticizing chief economic czar for bypassing parliament in budget-making.
In a first glimpse of what looks like a response to the upcoming budget, members belonging to the opposition and allied parties have termed the government’s budget strategy ‘sketchy and wishful thinking’ while criticising the chief economic czar for bypassing parliament in budget-making.
In his first-ever briefing to a parliamentary panel on the budget strategy for financial year 2014-15, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Tuesday presented the strategy paper to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate Standing Committees on Finance and Revenue in an in-camera meeting.
Dar had to face a barrage of questions after members of the committees took an exception to his move to ignore parliament in the budget-making process. The whole exercise was complete eyewash, as the government did not share tax proposals with representatives of the people, said members after the meeting. The briefing came just days before the presentation of the budget in parliament on June 3, providing no chance for a meaningful discussion.
“What was presented in an in-camera session is already known to us through newspapers, killing the purpose of the meeting,” said former finance minister Saleem Mandviwalla of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Mandviwalla said the tax target of Rs2.810 trillion for next year was very ambitious and the budget strategy paper was a wish list. The briefing was nothing but just numbers, he remarked.
The government has already agreed on the budget deficit target of 4.8% of gross domestic product (Rs1.4 trillion) with the International Monetary Fund and rest of the exercise is just “number crunching”, said Syed Naveed Qamar, who also belongs to the PPP.
The numbers presented to the committees were notional, having no real value, he said, pointing out that the government did not give a briefing on the budget, as the entire presentation revolved around medium-term budget strategy. According to Qamar, the members of the committees agitated against ignoring them in the budget-making process. “What the government presented to us was a very small step towards taking parliament into confidence.”
They were of the view that the government neither had a plan to curtail inflation nor it knew how to create jobs.
“As a result of the new budget, inflation will increase and there is also a question mark over the government’s strategy to reduce unemployment,” said Senator Talha Mahmood of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) – an ally of the ruling party.
Describing Rs2.810 trillion tax target as “doubtful”, Mahmood asked when the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) could not achieve this year’s Rs2.475 trillion target, what magic wand it had to reach the unrealistic target for next year. He underlined the urgent need of introducing drastic reforms in the FBR as corruption prevailed at the lower level. Raising $2 billion by floating Eurobonds and maintaining exchange rate stability should not be treated as benchmarks for economic revivals, suggested Rashid Godil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The briefing was nothing but a speech by a good orator, Ishaq Dar, he remarked.
Silver lining
Dar assured the parliamentarians that, depending on the Supreme Court’s favourable decision, the government would restore their budget for development schemes.
The finance minister gave personal assurance that not only for next year but parliamentarians’ funds for the outgoing fiscal year would also be allocated in the new budget, said Senator Talha Mahmood.
The government expected the court to give a favourable decision on June 2, he said.
Naveed Qamar pointed out that with the suspension of parliamentarians’ schemes, rural development had come to a halt.