Monday, November 10, 2014

'Game of Thrones' banned in Turkey's military schools

The fiercely secular Turkish armed forces will also offer Islamic education in its schools for the first time.
Turkey's armed forces have introduced new regulations for the country's military schools, according to which classes on Islam will be taught for the first time – and the blockbuster U.S. television series “Game of Thrones” is now banned. The aim of the new rules is to “protect” students from “sexual exploitation, pornography, exhibitionism, abuse, harassment and all negative behaviors,” according to Hurriyet Daily News. Four military officers were discharged from the army in 2012 for allowing their students to watch “Game of Thrones” in an Istanbul military school. It was not specified whether the screening was recreational or part of the school curriculum. Military schools will now function according to an updated set of education regulations drafted by the armed forces. One chapter of the new regulations, reportedly titled “the protection of students,” bans the screening of certain content. In addition, the fiercely secular military will allow elective classes on Islam, including “basic religious education, the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Israel, India successfully test advanced missile system

New Delhi defense official says development marks ‘significant milestone’ in relationsk
Israel’s national aerospace and aviation arms manufacturer conducted the first full and successful test of the Barak-8 air and naval defense missile system on Monday morning, Israel Aerospace Industries announced in a press release.
The test, conducted with the Defense Ministry and India’s Defence Research and Development Organization, validated all components of the weapons system, from radar detection to interception and detonation of the incoming projectile.
“The system’s impressive, advanced capabilities proven today in this complex test, are another testimony of IAI’s resilience, advanced and groundbreaking capabilities,” said Israel Aircraft Industries president and CEO Joseph Weiss.
Dr. Avinash Chander, the head of India’s DRDO and an adviser to the defense minister, called the test “an important milestone in the cooperation between India and Israel.”
The test came days after Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel, in the highest-level official trip ever for Delhi.
“Israel and India are at the cusp of a new era of increased cooperation in a wide variety of fields,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while meeting Singh on November 6.
In September, Netanyahu met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York on the sidelines of the UN Gereral Assembly to discuss nuclear developments in Iran and expanding bilateral ties between Jerusalem and Delhi.
The meeting was the first between the Israeli and Indian premiers in over a decade, according to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.
Netanyahu reportedly invited India to participate in a joint effort on cyber-defense, a project that will aim to be a link between civilian and military authorities in both countries.
In October, India reportedly agreed to a $525 million deal to buy Israel’s guided Spike missiles, which were widely used during Operation Protective Edge.
An earlier Barak system, already in use guarding Israel’s natural gas platforms in the Mediterranean Sea, is deployed on missile boats, where it can intercept sea-skimming missiles, among other threats.
During the Second Lebanon War, the Barak system was disabled shortly before Hezbollah fired a surface-to-sea missile that nearly sank one of the Israeli Navy’s most advanced warships, the INS Hanit.
Read more: Israel, India successfully test advanced missile system | The Times of Israel Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

The Middle East destroys itself

Blame Israel; it's the cool thing to do
What a mess. The world needs someone to blame. Hey, why not the Jews?
After all, it’s all Israel’s fault. Everyone else knows that all the problems in the region would be solved if only the Middle East had just one more Muslim country.
What could possibly go wrong?
A quick review. After the passing of Muhammed in 632 A.D., his adherents, having left no sons, broke into a family feud over who were the real heirs apparent, the true followers.
The ensuing Shia-vs.-Sunni split rages on today and erupts throughout much of the 1.6 billion Muslim world, with seemingly more violence every day.
The rage is about piety, purity, politics, power, personality, territory, legitimacy and, of course, religion.
Take just a partial tour of the recent region.
Saddam Hussein, with his Sunni-minority Baathist party, brutally ruled over Iraq’s majority Shia country, until we toppled him. He was replaced by Nouri al Maliki, whose Shia government (backed by Shia Iran) got even by encouraging extreme violence against the country’s Sunnis and excluding them from any meaningful role in governance or life.
Iran meddles everywhere, sponsoring terrorist Hamas in Gaza, arming terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon by way of Damascus, having backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and now supporting the Houthies who are progressing in the overthrow of Yemen (If only Iran became a nuclear state, I’m sure their behavior would improve!).
Al Qaeda and its allies are Sunni extremists who hate and want to destroy moderate Sunni governments for being, well, moderate. They despise the West as well.
ISIS, ISIL, ISEverywhere is an Islamic group so nasty they were thrown out of Al Qaeda for bad manners. They want to violently overthrow existing governments and establish an extreme religious Sharia Law Caliphate that recognizes no national boundaries. Among other things, they make rather violent home videos.
Then there’s the terrorist Nusra Front trying to dislodge the Alawite minority rulers in Syria (as are IS, and separately, scores of independent liberation groups as well as additional terrorist types. On the terror roster, these groups are metastasizing and taking the field so fast you need a new score card every day).
They are so brutal they almost create sympathy for the Assad dynasty of assassins who murdered hundreds of thousands of their own citizens with poison gas. (Interesting how one minute Assad is elected with 98% of the popular vote, and the next minute more people are trying to kill him than voted against him.)
In Turkey, there has been a reluctance to stem the genocidal slaughter of Kurds by ISIS on the Syrian side of their mutual border. This, out of fear those Syrian Kurds would like to join the Kurds on the Turkish side of their border and declare their own separate state.
Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia each understandably despise Shia Iran (whose operatives tried to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in D.C.), but are each other’s rivals for influence in the region.
Lebanon, whose prime minister was blown up, allegedly of course, by the Syrians, is wracked by Sunni-Shia-Christian strife and seems to struggle in finding a formula to govern.
Libya, never a bed of roses, has devolved into an ungovernable failed state since the killing of its hated tyrant, Moammar Khaddafy.
And Palestinian Fatah and Hamas seem to hate each other without a state.
The region is on fire. Violence, murder and mayhem prevail. Things must settle down.
Of the 22 Arab states, almost all are simmering, if not at full boil.
The world knows where the problem lies, and upon whose doorstep to lay the blame: The UN is focused like a laser on the Jewish nation.
Things would be wonderful if only Israel would get out of the way, and allow for a 23-State Solution.

Islamic extremists infiltrating schools, university campuses and scout groups across the UK in 'unprecedented scale', report warns

Islamic extremists are infiltrating schools, university campuses and scout groups across the UK, a new report has claimed.
Hardline groups, blamed for radicalising young British Muslims, have posted invitations on social media sites and at university campuses to public talks in an 'unprecedented scale', according to Sharia Watch UK.
The group, which monitors Islamic extremists, will publish its report highlighting the operations of 15 people it claims hold 'extremist views' who were allowed to give public talks or lectures at 20 institutions.
They include the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), whose speakers have been accused of advocating anti-Semitic and homophobic views, the Sunday Telegraph reports.
The iERA is currently under investigation by the Charity Commission over regulatory issues in its 'policies for organising events and inviting external speakers'. But leading members of the group have given talks at universities, a school and a south London scout group, according to the Sharia Watch UK report.
Among those addressing the lectures was chairman and founder Abdur Raheem Green, a British Muslim convert who is reported to believe that beating women will ‘bring them to goodness’.
It is also claimed that he has said that adultery is punishable by a 'slow and painful death', and has been seen on a YouTube video demanding that a Jewish man is removed form his sight while giving a talk at Hyde Park Corner. According to the report he was booked to address an Islamic event at Acklam Grange Secondary School in Middlesbrough. Students from across the North East were also invited to attend.
Activist Hamza Tzortzis is also named in the report, which states that he has claimed that anyone fighting against the Muslim community 'should be killed', adding that the punishment should be 'beheading'.
The report, entitled Learning Jihad: Islamists in British Universities, claims that he has been scheduled to give talks to the Universities of Dundee, Cardiff and Surrey and also the School of Oriental and African Studies in the six months leading to July. He is descriebd on the iERA website as a 'popular speaker' at UK universities.
Figures supplied to the report's authors by Students Rights revealed there were 233 events of 'concern' posted on social media.
An iERA spokesman told the Sunday Telegraph the group had no plans to infiltrate universities.
They added: 'We are an educational academy and run open debates and educational talks and campaigns around the UK and overseas.' The spokesman went on to deny the group's members promoted anti-Semitism, homophobia, or violence against women.
In September Home Secretary Theresa May announced sweeping new powers banning preachers of hate from public speaking or spreading their poison on social media.
The Extremist Disruption Orders – which have been dubbed Asbos for hate clerics – will also include anybody who seeks to ‘overthrow democracy’. In the past, the rules could have applied to spokesmen for Sinn Fein, such as Gerry Adams.
The restrictions placed on the hate preachers will be backed by criminal punishments and a possible jail term. They could include a ban on speaking at public events.
Anything they want to put on social media would have to be cleared by the authorities in advance, and the fanatics could also be banned from attending specific events and told who they can associate with, in powers that are similar to the now defunct control orders. Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

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China, U.S. to extend validity of business, tourist and student visas

China and the United States will grant each other's citizens a business or tourist visa with multiple entries and the maximum validity of ten years, China's Foreign Ministry announced on Monday.
The student visa will also be extended to five years of validity at most with multiple entries, said Qin Gang, the ministry spokesman, in a press release.
The two governments have reached the agreement and will finalize the arrangement soon, he said.
The visa extension policies will facilitate people-to-people exchanges and benefit cooperation in all areas between the two countries, he said. According to the ministry, China has signed mutual visa exemption agreements with nearly 90 countries and reached 53 visa simplification agreements with 39 countries.
A total of 37 countries and regions have agreed to grant Chinese citizens visas on arrival, while eight countries and regions unilaterally allow Chinese citizens to enter without a visa.

Video - President Obama's Statement on Keeping the Internet Open and Free

Obama urges China to be partner in ensuring world order

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday a successful China was in the interests of the United States and the world but Beijing had to be a partner in underwriting international order, and not undermine it.
Speaking to growing concerns among U.S. and other companies about the Chinese business environment after arriving in Beijing, Obama also urged China to reject the use of cyber theft for commercial gain and create a more level playing field where policy is not used for the benefit of some firms over others.
Obama's trip to China for an Asia-Pacific summit comes at a time of growing China-U.S. friction with Washington trying to expand American interests in Asia while Chinese President Xi Jinping demonstrates more willingness than his predecessors to demonstrate Beijing's clout on regional issues.
The two countries have disagreed in recent months on a range of topics, including trade, maritime issues and cyber security, while the United States has lobbied against the setting up of a multilateral infrastructure investment bank sponsored by China.
"Our message is that we want to see China successful," Obama told a news conference. "But, as they grow, we want them to be a partner in underwriting the international order, not undermining it."
Obama and Xi will meet over dinner on Tuesday night and then for bilateral talks as part of an official state visit on Wednesday.
In a deal that he said would improve trade and business ties between the world's two largest economies, Obama announced that China and the United States agreed to significantly extend the length of short-term visas. But he also urged Beijing's leaders to create a fair market place for foreign firms.
"We look to China to create a more level playing field on which foreign companies are treated fairly, so that they can compete fairly with Chinese companies," he said in a speech to business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
"We look to China to become an innovative economy that values the protection of intellectual property rights, and rejects cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial gain."
Dozens of foreign firms, including U.S. companies such as Qualcomm Inc and Microsoft Corp, have come under scrutiny as China seeks to enforce a 2008 anti-monopoly law that some critics say is being used to unfairly target overseas businesses, raising protectionism concerns.
Chinese regulators have defended their antitrust policies, saying foreign firms are not being targeted.
Obama's focus on Asia business ties on the first day of his visit underscored his efforts to strike a balance between seeking deeper economic cooperation with a rising China while also challenging Beijing with the U.S. pursuit of a trans-Pacific trade pact that for now excludes the world's second largest economy.
Earlier, Obama said momentum was building on the ambitious 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), although U.S officials had ruled out a major announcement on the pact in Beijing.
He urged China to move "definitively" to a more market-based exchange rate and to stand up for human rights and freedom of the press.
Under the visa deal, which will take effect on Nov. 12, both countries would extend the terms of multiple entry short-term tourist and business visas to 10 years from one year, the White House said in a statement accompanying Obama's announcement. Student visas would be extended to five years from one year.
"As a result of this arrangement, the United States hopes to welcome a growing share of eligible Chinese travelers, inject billions (of dollars) in the U.S. economy and create enough demand to support hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. jobs," the White House statement said.
The extension of some visas for Chinese nationals to 10 years matches what is currently allowed for citizens of nations with close relations with the United States, such as European countries and Brazil.
A senior U.S. official said the visa agreement would allow the United States to tap into the fast-growing market of Chinese tourists traveling abroad. The United States now attracts only 2 percent of Chinese tourism.
"We see this as a really big win," the official said, estimating that the United States could gain 440,000 jobs by 2021 and receive an $85 billion annual infusion into the American economy as a result of the new policy.
It will also make it easier for Chinese businesses and investors to get involved in U.S. projects.

Pashto Music Video - Sardar Ali Takkar - Che Masti We Aw Zwani We

Pashto Music Video - Muneeba Shah - Zaka Me Tol Khalaq Lewani De

Afghanistan’s Complex Peace Calculus

By Tamim Asey
Afghanistan’s long-term stability, prosperity and unity depend on a clear, sustainable, and sustained peace process. A “quick fix” deal could jeopardize the investment in blood and treasure that the international community has made in the region over the past decade and a half. Former American President John F. Kennedy pithily described a peace process in words that fit the Afghan context well: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on.” And Afghanistan’s own history demonstrates that any peace process must come from a position of strength, or else it will lead only to renewed instability.
The new Afghan Government of National Unity under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah represents an opportunity to reset and reinvigorate the Afghan peace process, this time in a more systematic, organized and objective way with a roadmap featuring clearly defined objectives and a division of labor amongst the various stakeholders.
We look at some of the issues – and some of the stakeholders – that will play a major role in the peace process in the months and years to come.
The Definition Problem: Who Are the Taliban?
There is little consensus as to who the Taliban actually are. Former President Hamid Karzai has often referred to them as disgruntled sons of the soil, while Afghan security institutions and analysts consider them to be a conglomerate of core ideological Taliban, field commanders, and foot soldiers who comprise elements of the former Taliban regime, aggrieved individuals and tribal elders, victims of collateral damage, criminal networks, drug lords, foreign fighters (including Punjabis, Arabs, Chechens, and Uzbeks), and finally some elements of the Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence. Which of these elements are open to reconciliation is an important question for Afghans and the international community. The enemy needs to be clearly defined and a distinction made between those elements who might be brought into the fold and those who need to be dealt with by force.
A Roadmap for Peace: Process Versus Deal
The Afghan government and opposition lack both a cohesive and systematic approach and the necessary capacity to undertake a comprehensive peace process in Afghanistan. The Taliban has meanwhile shied away from publicly supporting or engaging with the peace process.
A first important step would thus be for the new Afghan government to chart a clear roadmap for the Afghan peace process, identifying objectives before, during and after negotiations, processes, red lines, and issues that are negotiable. The government should make it very clear that it is focused on a process and not on any deal that will inevitably be short lived.
Too Many Commissions, Too Few Achievements
Afghanistan is hardly new to peacemaking. During the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and then again during the internal turmoil of the 1990s, dozens of peace initiatives were undertaken by different rival parties, some brokered by neighbors, others by the UN, and still others by the Gulf States.
Former President Hamid Karzai established Afghanistan’s first National Independent Peace and Reconciliation Commission headed by former Afghan President Sibghatullah Mojaddedi. The sole significant achievement of this commission was to release a few prisoners. Later, in August 2007, a three-day joint Afghanistan-Pakistan peace jirga was convened, calling for cross border and bilateral cooperation to bring peace in Afghanistan. This was during the peak of Taliban resurgence and increased guerilla activity across the country.
That was followed by the formation of another commission and peace jirga on June 2, 2010, which approved the government’s plan to launch a comprehensive dialogue with the Taliban, with the result that the Afghan High Peace Council was formed. None of the declarations and resolutions of these jirgas were successfully implemented, and Afghanistan was left with an ever increasing number of jirgas, resolutions, commissions and staff, all lacking a clear mandate.
Pakistan’s Card
All roads to peace in Afghanistan pass through Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Pakistan holds the key to the Afghan peace process, but is smart enough to hold its cards close to its chest. The question of Taliban sanctuaries, safe havens, training camps, and the provision of logistical and military support has always been the main concern of the Afghan government, but little has been done to address these issues, except when they posed a direct threat to the coalition. Pakistan understands full well that the Taliban is its dog in the fight and it will only give it up as an instrument of foreign policy under pressure and in exchange for a deal that addresses its territorial insecurities, specifically the Durand line, and its strategic interests in Afghanistan. At this point it is unclear what kind of deal this might be, but Ghani and Abdullah have a chance to negotiate one with Pakistan in exchange for peace.
Gulf States: Business and Financial Hub
The Taliban finances its activities through opium, gems, extortion, and kidnapping, among other sources, but many of the dollars financing the Taliban insurgencies can be traced to the Gulf States. The Gulf States have traditionally been the business and financial hub for the Taliban and Haqqani network. It is no secret that former Taliban officials are involved in businesses in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and other Gulf cities. The U.S. Treasury Department has long been monitoring the hawala system and has blacklisted a number of businesses linked to the Taliban.
Assisted by the U.S. and other international actors, the new Afghan government should seek to squeeze the Taliban financing network. This ought to include intelligence cooperation and systems to counter financing in the Gulf States. For their own security, the Gulf States themselves have reason enough to go after these networks and dismantle them.
The Neglected Roles of Iran and Central Asia
The ranks of the Taliban are filled with fighters from the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan, in addition to Chechens and others. The Taliban maintains close ties with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Chechen terrorist groups, and Chinese Uyghurs. Meanwhile, Iran has been accused by the West of providing medical, financial and logistical support to the Taliban in the volatile southern province of Nimroz.
Unlike the previous Karzai administration, Ghani and Abdullah have a golden opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with Central Asian states and Iran to cut the inflow of fighters and logistical support to the Taliban through a meaningful mechanism. This will require patience, foresight, and a strong foreign policy machinery.
Distant Collaborators: India, Russia and Turkey
The hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in December 1999, the recent pronouncements of jihad against India by the al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri, and the dozens of attacks on Indian diplomatic missions across Afghanistan all underscore the strategic importance of Afghanistan for India’s security. India has an important role to play in using its international influence, leverage and above all its intelligence expertise to help Afghanistan reach a piece deal.
Meanwhile, the Chechen problem is an important internal security threat for Russia. Moscow has traditionally been an important supporter of the former Northern Alliance and can still be a relevant factor. The Russians have vital security and regional interests in Afghanistan and any political, diplomatic and military investment in the Afghan peace process will be an investment in the security of the Russian Federation.
Turkey has important business and strategic interests in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Turkey’s status in the Islamic world and particularly Ankara’s influence over Pakistan could be important factors in helping the peace process along in Afghanistan. The trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey have been an important venue for exchanging information and improving coordination, even if they have yet to produce tangible results. As a longtime ally and friend of both Pakistan and Afghanistan, Turkey could serve as an honest broker in peace talks.
The Taliban as Hezbollah
Times have changed, and the Taliban now has no choice but to relinquish its dream of returning to power and instead engage in a constructive and meaningful peace process with the Afghan government.
Still, the question remains: What sort of Taliban would be acceptable to the people and government of Afghanistan? Former President Hamid Karzai repeatedly urged the Taliban to lay down its arms in exchange for immunity and participate in the mainstream political process and run for election. This suggests that the Taliban has the option to mold itself either into a political party with an armed wing. This would suggest a Hezbollah-type party, which would not be conducive to long term stability and unity.
Great Power Politics: U.S., U.K. and China
The U.S. and U.K. wield considerable economic, political and military influence over Pakistan. Both countries have also held dialogues with the Taliban through backdoor channels and intelligence contacts.
In his last speech, Karzai reiterated that the key to Afghan peace lies with the Americans and Pakistan. Admittedly, much of Karzai’s rhetoric is for domestic political purposes, but he does have a point. But the United States has its own long-term relationship with the Pakistan army and interests in the security of its nuclear arsenal, which outweigh the Afghan peace process. Meanwhile, there is a considerable Pakistani community in Britain and the U.K. has strategic military and geopolitical interests in Pakistan which again probably outweigh the Afghan reconciliation process. All of which points to one fact: In the great power politics of the region, Pakistan’s strategic importance to the U.K. and the U.S. exceeds that of Afghanistan. The new Afghan government has a difficult task ahead dealing with this geopolitical calculus.
Finally, China has a vital security interest in the Afghan peace process giving the rising insecurity in Xinjiang and the resurgence of the Uyghur insurgency. There is much in political, military and economic terms that China could do to help reach Afghans reach a peace deal sooner than later.
Clearly, the road to peace in Afghanistan will be long and difficult, but with a good faith effort by each of the stakeholders the country can at least start the journey.

A new government brings hope of change in Afghanistan

Lyse Doucet
Optimism - not a word you have heard a lot in Afghanistan of late.
But in Kabul right now, you hear it.
Maybe it is because there is a deep sigh of relief that the country has survived a months-long political crisis over a presidential election torn by fraud and two powerful camps adamant that they had won.
On Kabul roundabouts, alongside the huge billboards of mujahideen leaders and commanders assassinated through the years, official hoardings that announced Hamid Karzai's presence have been replaced by President Ashraf Ghani.
Even that is more than cosmetic in a country where power has rarely transferred peacefully.
Some voices still warn of a "legitimacy crisis" over the final power sharing deal between President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah which seemed to render a massive voting exercise irrelevant.
Maybe there is optimism because this is another new beginning in a country where all too many new starts have led to yet another time of violence and hardship.
"We can't afford not to be optimistic after living with war for so long," an Afghan friend tells me.
A new political order is being installed and the country awaits promised action on many pressing challenges confronting this nation as foreign troops pull out, aid levels drop and Taliban attacks are on the rise.
Vibrant election
This time the generation that has come of age in the last decade of international engagement have new weapons to hold their leaders to account. Among them, a website called Sad Roz is tracking the progress of political pledges made in the heat of vibrant election campaigns and urges Afghans to "submit a missing promise".
Kabul's chattering classes swap stories of a new president who sleeps only three hours a night, devours every document searching for essential details and schedules his diary so tightly that a senior official who arrived five minutes late was told he had missed his moment.
Afghans, with a brand of humour honed through decades of war, tell tales of turbaned tribal elders ushered out of the presidential office, protesting their tea is still warm.
"I'll give you an important piece of information, " one of his aides whispers to me. "President Ghani is meeting Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah every week, one on one, for more than an hour to discuss important matters."
In animated conversation, Afghans discuss who sides with Ghani, who with Abullah, and there are still those who say they remain with Karzai - a player who will still remain in the game.
But the transition is underway.
For the first time for as long as anyone can remember, there is an office of the First Lady of Afghanistan.
Lebanese-born Rula Ghani is now in "listening mode" receiving delegations from all walks of life.
Ashraf Ghani's public acknowledgement of his wife during his inauguration was mentioned to me by many Afghan women during a visit to the capital. A simple gesture sent a powerful signal in a deeply conservative culture.
"He recognised that women exist," one Afghan aid worker exclaimed.
And yet, whatever change will come will still sit, sometimes uneasily, with the stubborn realities of more traditional ethnic based politics. Anxious questions
On a not too unusual day in Kabul, traffic was slowed along the main avenue of government buildings by gaggles of turbaned men in long cloaks sauntering down the road and young men in pickups revving their engines outside a well guarded gate.
Visitors from northern Uzbek areas had come to call on their leader - Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum who now presides as vice president, and has his own promises to keep.
Afghan optimism is still wrapped in anxious questions.
Young Afghans who threw their energies and aspirations into the presidential race now ask whether the political space will stay open for them, or if they will be sidelined by men of guns and greed.
Supporters of rival camps wonder which posts in the new cabinet will go to which side, and who will take up the jobs. For all the exhilaration of a new beginning, the fundamentals of the old have not changed.
Afghanistan is still a country on the brink of bankruptcy, threatened by instability.
But in the absence of clear evidence about which way this new beginning will turn, some Afghans allow themselves to hope this chapter will be different.
In Afghanistan, any optimism is cautious, but for the moment it is there.

Music Video - Ghazal - Malika Pukhraj & Tahira Syed - Abhi To Main Jawan Hoon


Pakistan: Bilawal Bhutto - Pakistan is not a dangerous place

Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said Pakistan is not a dangerous place rather it’s the bravest country that has given birth to people like Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.
Speaking at the book opening ceremony at the Oxford University, he said that Pakistan’s real strength was its democracy.
Bhutto said though democracy had been facing different challenges across the globe, the solution to challenges could also be found in democracy.
“Bowing down before oppression is not an option, terrorists belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Islamic State or those who launched 9/11 or London attacks are in very small numbers,” the PPP chairman said.
He said that militants wanted to impose their agenda by using name of Islam but in fact they had nothing to with the religion of Islam.

IS gaining ground in Pakistan: Here's why China should be more worried than India

By Rajeev Sharma
The Islamic State (IS), also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is just reported to have increased its presence in Pakistan in a big way and recruited up to 12,000 people from the restive Balochistan province.
Doesn't it mean that the already tinderbox situation that Pakistan is in would be further exacerbated? If so, is it good or bad for India? How does it impact India?
Answering the first question is easier. Pakistan is a country that is in the cross hairs of jihadist terrorism that it had itself fawned and encouraged. Pakistan has been using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy for over three decades.
Pakistan is now faced with the Frankenstein monster. The ‘creation’ now wants to gobble up the ‘creator’.
There are umpteen number of jihadist outfits, owing allegiance to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Al Qaeda, which are vying with one another in wreaking havoc on Pakistan through the means they know the best: terrorism.
Now the entry of IS in the volatile Pakistani theatre is set to complicate things further for Islamabad as well as Rawalpindi.
The development is a new challenge for Pakistan, and a very serious one. Not only will it inevitably roil the already volatile waters in the country further but will also harm it diplomatically and would eventually cast a shadow on Pakistan’s all-weather strategic ties with China.
Forget the Indian angle for a moment, the rise of IS in Pakistan is an alarm bell for Pakistan’s best friend China.
Wu Sike, China's special envoy to the Middle East, recently remarked that up to 100 Chinese citizens may be fighting for IS; most of whom, if not all, are Uighurs from Xinjiang, China’s restive Muslim dominated region.
News of the first Chinese national captured in Iraq while fighting on behalf of the IS came in early September 2014.
The IS has already spoken of revenge against China for its alleged various sins of omission and commission.
A few months ago, IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi had remarked that "Muslim rights are forcibly seized in China, India, and Palestine". This was the first time when China was mentioned on al-Baghdadi’s list. The IS has already released its China-specific plans and a map which shows that IS plans to control a significant portion of Xinjiang in the next five years.
(Incidentally, Al-Baghdadi may have been killed or seriously injured in a US-led air strike on the IS in the western Iraqi border town of al-Qaim on Friday, 7 November.)
Nothing perturbs the Chinese than the very talk of terrorism in China, particularly the jihadist brand of terror, given Beijing’s concerns about Xinjiang. Therefore, the rise and spread of IS in Pakistan should worry China more than India.
Now let’s turn to the India angle and how the rise and spread of IS in Pakistan may affect India.
The Islamic State is an anathema for India too. The outfit is already attracting large number of youths from various parts of India in its fold. Though there is no official count of Indians who have joined the IS, the number may well be in hundreds.
Therefore, from that perspective it would be a nightmare for India if IS were to expand its presence its presence in its immediate neighbourhood. The news about IS recruiting up to 12,000 men in Balochistan means that this newest terror outfit is knocking on the Indian doors.
The implications of the IS threat on India are not lost on the Indian strategic establishment. The fact that India is home to the second largest population in the world (after China) heightens the IS threat further. But India has been tackling such threats practically on a day-to-day basis for several decades and has thus acquired a significant degree of resilience in this context.
However, the most immediate impact of the IS rise in Pakistan will be on Pakistan itself. Conditions in Pakistan are ripe and favourable for any jihadist terror outfit to do business. The world may soon get to hear of the exploits of IS in Pakistan.
This will inevitably rock the Pakistani boat further. A nation which is already grappling with myriads of blood-letting jihadist terror outfits would find it extremely difficult to tackle yet another high-profile terror merchant like IS.
The current Pakistan situation proffers a ready-to-go kind of environment for all terror outfits of all hues and ideologies and IS has joined the list of such outfits active on that country. But IS won’t be just another addition. It can be a veritable game changer in the current situation for Pakistan which is already struggling hard to stay afloat in fighting the Frankenstein monsters. This can hasten the fall of Pakistan as a nation.

Rufin Anthony, the bishop of Islamabad, has denounced the culpable silence of Muslim leaders who have failed to forcefully condemn what is being called “the worst religiously motivated hate crime in Pakistan's history”—the recent murder of a Christian couple in Pakistan.
Summary executions of religious minorities accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has met with complacency and even approval, says Anthony. “In the past,” he said, when vigilantes have taken the law into their own hands, “religious leaders have carefully refrained from expressing words of condemnation. In fact, they have practically encouraged personal vendettas.”
Anthony said that the blame for current problems falls to those who have countenanced it earlier. “If appropriate measures had been taken in the past,” he said, “this barbarism could have been averted.”
On November 4, Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibia, the parents of four children, were stoned and then burned alive at a brick kiln in Pakistan. The two victims were killed by an angry mob of hundreds of people stirred up by a local religious leader for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an.
Many have begun asking how a blasphemy law that justifies killing in the name of religion can exist in today’s world.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said he was “shocked and speechless” by the recent execution. The worst thing about it, he said, “is that it was carried out in the name of religion. Religion cannot justify a crime like this.”
“There is this law against blasphemy,” he went on “which represents a problem: shouldn’t the international community intervene? I ask you: can we remain passive before crimes that are legitimized by religion?”
Tauran said that the first victims of this outrage are the Muslims themselves, “because these crimes give Islam a terrible, very negative image. They should be the first to denounce them forcefully,” he said.
Despite the horror of these crimes, Muslim officials continue to look for scapegoats and place blame elsewhere.
The president of the Ulema (Council of Muslim scholars) of Pakistan, Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi, blamed local police for the crime. In a statement, Ashrafi condemned the violence but said it “would not have happened if the local police had not shown negligence.”
Since its inception, the blasphemy law has been applied brutally against religious minorities. In 2012, a teenaged Christian girl with Down Syndrome, Rimsha Masih, was arrested under the blasphemy laws, and released on bail. She and her family had to be relocated because of threats against them.
In 2011, two politicians – Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic – were assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws. Yet Ashrafi has refused to question the blasphemy law that has encouraged these brutalities, preferring instead to blame the local police. If the couple was really guilty, Ashrafi’s statement asks, “why did the police not arrest them after complaints from local residents?” And if they were not guilty, “why were they not given immediate protection, in view of the enraged reaction of the people?”
So far the police have stopped some forty people for questioning but there have been no official charges.
A recent Pew poll showed that 75 percent of Pakistanis believe: “Blasphemy laws are necessary to protect Islam in our country.” Pakistan’s blasphemy laws entail that insulting the prophet is punishable by death.

Was the Suicide Bombing on the India-Pakistan Border a Warning to India?
A suicide bomber took his own life along with around 60 others near the Indo-Pakistani border early Sunday morning, November 2, 2014. The attack came shortly after the conclusion of a daily ceremony where troops from both sides lower their nation’s flags in honor of those who have fallen in recent and past conflicts.
The bomber himself was located in a car about 500 meters from the border on the Pakistani side. No Indian troops were hurt in the incident.
Shortly following its conclusion, the Pakistan-based militant group named Jundallah, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, took credit for the attack.
The attack comes during a period of escalating tensions between the two rival nations. Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move in August to cancel planned talks with Pakistan (with the initial hope of renewing dialogue between the two), tensions along the Indo-Pakistan border have dramatically increased. Earlier this month, Pakistani and Indian forces fired over the border, killing nine civilians and injuring dozens more. In the aftermath of the attack, both parties blamed the other for initiating the violence.
However, while the blast did target Pakistanis supporting their country at the Wagah border, some believe that it also sent a message to India in regards to their border security: these militant groups have the ability to attack the country right at their doorstep.
Shivam Vij, a writer for the Scroll News Network, believes this attack (which took place less than a few hundred meters away from the Indian border) drew similarities between the dreadful terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai a few years ago.
Those attacks, which were carried out in November 2008, occurred when ten Pakistani citizens landed in Mumbai via boat and conducted a series of widespread violent incursions throughout the city over a span of three days. By the conclusion of the attacks, only one gunmen remained alive and the death toll stood at 164 with hundreds injured. Following Pakistan’s failure to bring the perpetrators to justice (after arresting 20 suspects within Pakistan who were related to the aggression), Vij claims that India has been hesitant to buy into Pakistan's continued narrative to other nations that they are the biggest victims of terrorism.
As a result, Vij believes that more extremists will begin to look at India as a target and that the Wagah attack exposed fundamental flaws in India’s border security.
In fact, according to the India Times, the bombing was originally meant to hit the Indian side of the border but exploded in Pakistan due to a miscalculation. The bomb had exploded only a day before hundreds of Sikh pilgrims were to cross the border in order to celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday. According to experts in New Delhi, the bomber may have had this event in mind as a target before he had detonated the explosives in Pakistan.
This “clear message” to India was further materialized a few days after the article’s publication, when a spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan tweeted that India was indeed their next target:
This attack is an open message to both governments across the border,” Ehsan Allah Ehsan, a Taliban spokesman, tweeted. “You [Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi] are the killer of hundreds of Muslims. We will take the revenge of innocent people of Kashmir and Gujarat.
However, some still believe that the true intentions of militant groups like the Taliban and Jundallah are to ignite tensions between India and Pakistan. Matt Schiavenza, a writer for Defense One (a newspaper that focuses on delivering breaking analysis and ideas on topics that concern US national security and defense), pointed to the fact that the attack incidentally took place on one of the world’s most unstable borders. While he acknowledges that India and Pakistan have attempted to stabilize relations in the past, Schiavenza points towards the 500,000 troops that India reportedly keeps stationed in the Kashmir region in case of an attack.
In light of the recent bombings, Twitter has also gone ablaze with harsh criticism of the increased tensions along the border.
Adnan Rehmat, a political analyst from Pakistan, is appalled by the violent clashes between the two countries and believes that a diplomatic solution must be found.
Latest developments indicate that Indian border security around the area has been tightened and that land trade between the countries has also temporarily halted. While it is unclear what next steps either Pakistan or India will take to secure their borders, their allied nations can only hope that the conflict does not escalate any further.

Bilawal Bhutto - Imran Khan took another U-turn

Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan has yet again taken a U-turn by offering to accept a judicial commission with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif still in his seat. Earlier, Imran Khan had refused to accept any judicial commission as long as Nawaz Sharif was in PM Office. Commenting on Imran Khan’s image on Twitter in which Chairman PTI is seen making a ‘U’ for communicating with his followers in sign language, Bilawal said that nobody needed to be reminded of what a U-turn sign looked like. "We don t need a sign language translator to tell us what a U-turn looks like", tweeted Bilawal.

The Pakistani state needs to own up its responsibilities - State and human security

When politics plays, the poor die. That has been there for thousands of years and will remain there for as long as humans live, and their aspirations live. John Milton’s assertion that “the root of all evil is man” often seems true, especially when it comes to politics—the most favourite game of human beings. It is favourite because it gives them power. The power—an illusion, man has been haunted by for millennia. Everything that comes in the way of this illusion is enemy, whether it is innocent or guilty, he or she, concerned or unconcerned.
In Pakistan, politics of religion is not a new phenomenon. It has been used time and again for political gains by many. Be it the establishment, most of the political parties, religious scions or leaders. It has proved to be a useful tool to manoeuver or formulate public opinion whenever they please. This blatant misuse of religion has been going on from centuries ever-since British ruled the subcontinent.
Similar to their many “gifts” which they left behind in the subcontinent, the blasphemy law is among those. The law was introduced by the British Government in 1860 to protect religious sentiments and was further expanded in 1927. The purpose of initiating this law by the British was to prevent any religious clashes that may occur between Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent. The maximum punishment for a person accused of committing blasphemy under the British law was 10 years in jail, the inclusion of fine or no fine depended on the case. It should be noted that only seven cases accusing individuals of blasphemy were reported in the British era.
Pakistan, when it came to being in 1947, fully inherited this law. The country saw a rapid increase in blasphemy cases, especially after the developments which occurred in 1980s. The laws were expanded in several steps throughout the era in an effort by the then military dictator to use religion Islam for his own political motives and intents but, unfortunately, the country suffered such misuse by General Zia-ul-Haq in the worst form possible as was witnessed in the later decades as Pakistanis were jailed, shot, lynched and burnt alive, all in the name of the blasphemy law.
With the rise of extremism and militancy in Pakistan, in the last few years, the people of Pakistan are unfortunately no longer strangers to individuals taking matters of law in their own hands and apprehending those accused of blasphemy. According to the data provided by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, since 1987, a total number of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law.
The latest case of a Christian couple being burnt in a brick kiln by an enraged mob in a village near Kasur has yet again raised many questions on not only the worsening law and order situation of Pakistan or the shredding fabric of a rapidly desensitised society, but has focused the attention on how long the state will continue to be held hostage by these man-made laws and will silently continue its policy of appeasement, just to save its political face.
When faced with all this, one dares to question why have we made religion such a sensitive and a dangerous matter in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where any debate on the matter of religion is avoided – at best? Has religion in Pakistan become a mission for personal vendetta?
In a country where political leaders use this terrible affair of blasphemy laws because they might serve as another ladder to their political ambitions; and for the government it might have been another messy day of business that eventually passed. But, for the people who lost their loved ones and those who were affected – the scars of these incidents will live with them forever. The people who lost their family members would not be able to forget this tragedy, and the monstrous remnants of this day will haunt them and their coming generations. Because the tragedy does not end with an incident, it goes on with the sufferings of those who are left behind.
As Alex Lennnox said, “Humankind seems to have an enormous capacity for savagery, for brutality, for lack of empathy, for lack of compassion.” This saying sits accurately with the nightmarish events which occurred in the village and also shows how apathetic the society of Pakistan has become. Life seems to have no longer any value in the country, and society apparently has become deaf, dumb and blind where there is a complete realization of how these laws are misused and the Christian couple would perhaps be not the last victim of these laws.
It seems the state of Pakistan has become a banana republic where the citizens have no rights and anyone who dares to express their opinion is condemned. Freedom of expression, democracy and the right to ask a question, have merely become empty slogans.
It is essential that the perpetrators of this event are brought to justice so to stop such further incidents from occurring. The onus of responsibility now lies with the state of Pakistan to take a conclusive step where such acts are concerned. The state of Pakistan now needs to redefine its policies and laws if it truly wants to project a better image in the world.

Pakistan: Imran Khan’s Choices - Playing Dangerous Game

It looks like the cloak of democratic protest that Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) have so precariously shrouded themselves in is beginning to come undone. While addressing a rally in Rahim Yar Khan on Sunday, Khan said that members of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) should be part of a commission headed by the Supreme Court to investigate rigging in the 2013 general election. There is no gainsaying the absurdity of this demand: in the constitutional scheme of things, there is no room for the ISI, mostly comprising military officers, or the military’s own intelligence wing, to sit on a commission to pass judgment on the electoral process.
Former PTI leader Javed Hashmi’s thunderbolts regarding Imran Khan taking dictation from the army have already done much to ruin the leader’s democratic credentials and the credibility of what most see as his constitutional demands. Khan is doing a great disservice to his party and its supporters by dragging institutions that need to be kept far away from politics - and in fact which are in dire need of being depoliticised - into the political centre stage. These intelligence agencies and those that head them need to be allowed to focus on their raison d’etre: gathering intelligence on external and internal threats to Pakistan and its people. Why is Khan intent on giving credence to speculations that his aim is not to strengthen the democratic project but to weaken and destabilise it? It is time for Khan to pick a side once and for all: does he profess allegiance to the constitution and this country’s fledgling democracy or does he want to be perceived as being aligned with anti-democratic elements? Khan ought to know that the game he is playing is a dangerous one, which will have consequences well beyond the PM’s office he so covets.

Pakistan: Hindu Council urges Sharif to protect minorities post Christian couple blasphemy murder

Days after a Christian couple was killed by an angry mob for allegedly desecrating the Koran, the Pakistan Hindu Council has proposed the establishment of an active committee at the federal level under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to prevent atrocities against minorities.
The decision was unanimously endorsed in an urgent meeting called by the executive body of the council which also assigned Member National Assembly Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani the task of gathering support from other representative parties, reported the Dawn.
The meeting chaired by Chela Ram Kewlani condemned the brutal killing of a Christian couple in Punjab and registered protest over increasing attacks on minorities and forced conversions.
Kewlani said that the minorities in Pakistan were still as vulnerable as they were one and a half years ago. He added that kidnapping of Hindu girls, forced conversions and marriages are issues that are regularly faced by Hindus mainly due to an absence of a Hindu marriage registration act.
The council urged Sharif and provincial chief ministers to implement effective and practical legislation to protect minorities and stressed on the need to formulate interfaith harmony and Hindu marriage laws.

Pakistan: Protecting minorities: Killing of Christian couple sparks protests

Members of civil society, political parties and the Christian community took to the streets on Sunday to persuade the federal and Punjab governments to take action against the perpetrators of the Kot Radha Kishan incident.
At least 500 members of Christian community gathered on Sher Shah Suri Road outside Peshawar Press Club. Representatives from churches across Peshawar, including the Church of Pakistan Peshawar Cantt, Anglican Orthodox, Church of Peshawar, Catholic Church and AOG Church Swati Gate, participated.
Rallies were also taken out from different churches to the press club by civil society organisations and political parties such as the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA), Pakistan Minority Alliance (PMA), Awami National Party (ANP) and Christian Students Fellowship (CSF).
The protesters urged the government to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law. They voiced concern and alarm over the killing of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy in Kot Radha Kishan. Holding placards, they shouted slogans against the Punjab government for not taking action against the misuse of the blasphemy law against minorities.
Speaking out
A delegation of legal practitioners belonging to the Christian community had organised a news conference on Saturday to discuss the incident. Speaking at the conference, Advocate Shaukat Ghulam insisted the couple was actually killed over the failure to repay debts on time. According to Ghulam, the couple had repeatedly asked residents of Kot Radha Kishan to help them but they turned a blind eye.
Ghulam blamed the federal government for not providing adequate protection to minorities. “If the government could not control the miscreants, the matter should be handed over to the United Nations to be examined,” he said.
“The couple’s death is a clear example of extra-judicial killing and the Supreme Court should take suo motu action against the villagers of Kot Radha Kishan,” Ghulam added.
Speaking about the plight of the Christian community, the advocate said a number of people, especially from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, have sought asylum abroad because they do not feel secure in Pakistan.
Ghulam appealed to political parties, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), to raise more awareness about the rights of minorities and issue an official statement on the Kot Radha Kishan incident.

Pakistan - The IS threat

A report prepared by the Balochistan home department and sent by the provincial government to the security agencies has claimed a significant increase in activity by the self-styled Islamic State inside Pakistan.
Since the report became public, the Balochistan government has tried to downplay its contents and senior officials have suggested that there is no real IS problem in Pakistan, at least in Balochistan.
Yet, at the same time as officially denying the existence of IS in Balochistan, the chief minister and home secretary accepted that groups with similar agendas to the IS do exist in the province. And therein lies the problem: IS or no IS, the country’s militancy problem is complex and continuing.
Moreover, while IS may not yet have a substantial presence in Pakistan, the militant landscape here is favourable to its goals in several ways. Many of the key players in the militant groups today have an agenda and set of targets that easily fits within the IS framework. And the IS brand is international, giving a boost to local outfits in their quest for relevance and importance in the crowded world of militancy.
In at least one regard, what the Pakistani state should do is fairly clear: be forthright about the IS threat and the extent of the group’s activity in Pakistan.
Ultimately, the point of militant groups is to be visible, so major ingress by IS, were it to happen, would be known once attacks start occurring and the group began to take responsibility for them. Far better than that would be to have the threat explained beforehand – because tracking the threat would also mean having a strategy to deal with it if and when it explodes in a big way. Yet, the Pakistani state appears to be stuck in an old pattern of confronting the militant threat: do nothing, or very, very little, until the threat grows so big that it is impossible to ignore – and infinitely more difficult to fight back against.
Much the same had happened with Al Qaeda when it began to seek local partners and shape the jihad discourse among militants, giving it an international context and flavour that is significantly more dangerous than localised variants.
Were IS to gain more than a toehold in Pakistan, the perils are fairly obvious: IS could go far beyond what Al Qaeda, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi or even the TTP have achieved here. Which would mean a terrible and even higher price that the Pakistani state and society would have to pay for IS’s existence here. With its overt and ferocious sectarian agenda, an IS in the ascendant could unleash forces within society that are too frightening to even contemplate.
Miss the warning signs now or fail to deny it space within Pakistan now and it may not be long before IS becomes the mother of all militant problems.

Lynched in Pakistan

Murtaza Haider
The lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore has shocked Pakistanis and the rest of the world.
The despicable act is shocking indeed, yet hardly surprising in Pakistan where, like several other Muslim countries, mob violence has turned into a spectator sport.
A large mob numbering hundreds bludgeoned a Christian couple to death. The victims, Shama and Shehzad, were parents of three children, while Shama was four-months pregnant. The mob later burnt their bodies in the furnace of the brick kiln where the couple worked as bonded labour.
Lynch mobs and vigilante justice have not been the exclusive dominion of Muslims. While such heinous crimes do take place in other places, they are much more frequent in certain Muslim-majority countries.
Pakistan and Bangladesh are notorious for vigilante justice and mob violence. Those accused of a crime in Bangladesh and others accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are routinely subjected to mob violence.
Christians Hindus, and other minorities in Pakistan live in constant fear of their neighbours. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which mandate the death penalty for the convicted, have created an environment where the mere accusation of blasphemy guarantees a death sentence verdict either by the State or the society.
Unlike the rest of the world, some Muslim countries, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia, have turned state-sanctioned violence into a spectator sport.
Public beheadings in Saudi Arabia and hangings in Iran are performed in the presence of hundreds of onlookers. After China, Iran and Saudi Arabia lead the world in death sentences.
Earlier in Pakistan, General Ziaul Haq’s regime flogged journalists and other pro-democracy activists in public. Many believe such public portrayals of capital or other punishments are ordained in Islam. The fact remains that public beheadings and floggings are Arab customs that predate Islam.
The public hangings and executions are traumatic events, even for those who watch them. At the very least, such acts desensitise individuals and societies to violence. The central square in Swat under the Taliban was called the khooni chowk (bloody square) because the Taliban would hang dead bodies of their opponents in plain view of all. Children and others would pass by the hanging corpses as they walked to and from school.
The blasphemy laws were enacted by General Zia’s regime in Pakistan. Legal experts and others believe that the blasphemy laws are behind vigilante justice in Pakistan where mobs and individuals have murdered many accused of blasphemy.
Late General Ziaul Haq is indeed responsible for introducing the blasphemy laws and is rightly criticised for giving power to the religious fanatics who now are holding the nation hostage.
General Zia, however, has been dead for 26 years.
Why is that Pakistan has never moved to repeal the blasphemy laws?
Successive civil and military regime since General Zia’s death have paid lip service to protect the life, property, and rights of the minorities. They have though not attempted to repeal the laws that have informally institutionalised violence in the society.
It is important to note that lynch mobs and vigilante justice is not unique to Muslim-majority countries. It was not long ago that mobs in Gujrat, India, killed thousands of Muslims. In Africa, accused criminals are routinely lynched in Kenya. Lynching takes place even in Latin American countries.
What is then different about Pakistan or other Muslim-majority countries?
The answer is misplaced law and order and justice. Lynch mobs have gone scot-free in Pakistan even when the criminals were caught red handed on camera.
Last year, a large mob destroyed hundreds of homes belonging to Christians in Joseph Colony in Lahore after accusing a young Christian man of blasphemy. The accused Christian, Sawan Masih, has been sentenced to death by the courts for committing blasphemy. However, the mob, which destroyed the property and livelihoods of thousands of Christians, has escaped justice.
The blasphemy laws may have motivated some to murder those suspected of blasphemy. However, the failure of the State to prosecute the lynch mobs reinforces murderous behaviours in the society.
Shama, Shehzad, and Salman Taseer are citizens of Pakistan whose right to life was taken away by religiously motivated fanatics.
Rimsha Masih, the 15-year old Christain girl, was smuggled to Canada to save her life after she was accused of blasphemy. Sawan Masih, the Badami Bagh resident who was accused of blasphemy, is appealing his death sentence at the higher courts. These are only a few examples.
If the politicians in Pakistan are too timid to repeal blasphemy laws, they must at least then apply other existing laws to prosecute and convict lynch mobs.

Pakistan - Kasur lynching: Couple’s son recounts harrowing details

By Akbar Bajwa

Christian couple lynching: Son says parent­s... by etribune With police officials struggling to make any headway in their investigation into the Kot Radha Kishan lynching tragedy, the slain Christian couple’s six-year-old son on Sunday came forth with a harrowing account of the double murder.
Sajjad Masih and his wife Shama Bibi – brick kiln workers from Chak-59 of Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur – were brutally killed by a mob on November 4 after being accused of committing blasphemy.
“The mob attacked our house… they beat up my parents before tying them to a tractor and dragging them around the neighbourhood,” Sajjad and Shama’s son told Express News after a prayer ceremony was held for his parents.
“My parents were beaten so harshly that they started bleeding,” he said, adding that after dragging his parents around by a tractor, the mob threw them in the brick kiln furnace.
According to the slain couple’s son, some members of the mob also attacked his younger sister. “They picked my four-year-old sister and threw her on the ground,” he said.
“When I saw the crowd was getting rough with my daughter’s children, I fled away with them from the spot to keep them from harm’s way,” recounted Shama’s father Mukhtar Masih. He said he feared for his and his grandchildren’s life and was forced to change locations for safety reasons.
Mukhtar called for the public execution of his daughter’s murderers and said strict action should be taken against those involved in the lynching. Setting the record straight, he also said the picture shown by the media as that of Shama’s was in fact her niece’s. “I will soon reveal Shama’s actual picture once I gain access to her belongings, currently in police custody.”
Meanwhile, other relatives of the slain couple and members of the Christian community have expressed distrust in the police investigation into the lynching, accusing officials of distorting facts from ‘day one’.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Human Liberation Foundation Chairman Aslam Sahotra – who claimed he was present both at the scene of the crime and when the FIR was being lodged – said that instead of recording the strength of the mob as 1,000 people as mentioned in Sajjad’s brother’s complaint, police mentioned only 500-600 people in the FIR. “Sheikhupura RPO Abu Bakar Khudabuksh intervened himself and stopped the police officer from mentioning a 1,000-strong mob in the FIR,” he said.
When contacted, RPO Khudabukhsh said the police did not think there were more than 500 people in the mob at the time.
Sajjad’s brother Mukhtar, meanwhile, said that despite assurances by the Sheikhupura RPO and Kasur DPO that the SHO would be suspended and an inquiry would be initiated against the DSP of the area for their inaction, no punishment was ever awarded to the policemen in question. Both the DPO and RPO denied ever giving any such assurance. Defending the police against allegations of inaction in response to the crime, Kasur DPO Jawad Qamar said: “Since it was the 10th of Muharram, police were spread too thinly across the district.” On the other hand, DPO Qamar said police had already rounded up 55 suspects, including three imams and the owner of the brick kiln used in the murder. “The other accused left the village overnight and could not be arrested.
Police foil mob attack in Raiwind
Police officials said they foiled a bid by locals in Raiwind on Sunday to torture three Christian men over alleged blasphemy.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Raiwind SHO Muhammad Shaheen said he responded to a call from brick kiln owner Haji Ikram who sought police help against threats by some locals from Ameenpura village.
According to Shaheen, Ikram told him that some of his workers had accused three of his Christian workers of committing blasphemy and had teamed up with residents of the village to take action against them. He said the mob was pressing Ikram into reporting the blasphemy to the police. When Ikram refused, they started threatening him as well.
Shaheen added that when he reached Ikram’s brick kiln, a local prayer leader was urging Ameenpura residents to treat the three Christian workers the same way as the couple in Kot Radha Kishan.
Published in The Express Tribune

Pakistan's Christians Under Attack - ''A lynching state of mind''

Waqar Gillani
Increasing intolerance in society over matters religious is becoming a matter of grave concern while the state seems oblivious, indifferent or worse still complicit.
The unpaved dusty streets of Chak 59, a poor neighbourhood with a few hundred houses near the old town of Kot Radha Kishan, wear a deserted look. This is also true of other small villages nearby.
According to the police, on Tuesday last, several hundred charged people of Chak 59 and nearby villages commuting on trolleys and motorbikes stormed a brick kiln located about a kilometre away from Chak 59. They forcefully took out a young Christian couple, Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama Masih, from a locked room at the kiln, furiously beat them with bricks, sticks, clubs and hands and finally dragged them to the top of a blazing brick oven and watched them burn to ashes in a few minutes.
The police says these people alleged the couple had desecrated pages of Holy Quran a few days ago which remains officially unconfirmed. A few policemen and a local reporter of a television channel witnessed the barbaric act of violence by the religiously-charged mob. They dared not move ahead after some of them injured a policeman and broke the reporter’s camera who was trying to record this shocking incident. The village is deserted because of continuous police raids to identify and arrest the people involved in this brutal act.
“There were up to 1,000-1200 people gathered after hearing public announcements from nearby mosques to teach lesson to that alleged blaspheming couple. There is no proof yet and the investigations are under way,” says Jawwad Qamar, district police officer, while talking to TNS. “More than 600 people have been nominated in the FIR and more than fifty people have been arrested, including some clerics and owner of the kiln for their alleged connivance. The attackers will be charged for terrorism and killing the couple.”
The whitewashed small room with the broken door and roof clearly tells the horrible story of that wretched couple; the couple’s shoes still lying in the room as if left behind after they were dragged out by the mob.
“The couple had been working at this kiln for almost two decades — along with their 15 other family members. Somebody alleged that the couple, after the death of Shahzad’s father who used to practice ‘black magic’ as an Aamil till a few days ago, cleaned his room and disposed of his belongings including some papers in the street. A local vendor allegedly found some charred Quranic pages in the streets and the issue sparked after that,” says Qamar.
Meanwhile, there was an ongoing dispute between the brick kiln owner Yousaf Gujjar and the family regarding some advance payments and delayed work “as some of the family members used to go to the local hospital where our father Nazar Masih was getting treatment. He died a few days ago,” says Iqbal Masih, 60, the elder son of the family who also works at the same kiln.
The bhatta management including the owner’s munshi and chowkidar locked the couple on November 4, some hours earlier before the attackers came, as if they would run away without paying the advance money,” he says. “They had just disposed of some record of their father which did not contain any blasphemous material,” he claims. Some of the Muslim workers at the kiln were discriminating against them, he says.
“We want justice. We cannot forget the way they brutally killed our brother and his wife and mercilessly threw their one-and-a-half-year old daughter, who was also locked with them in the room,” Iqbal Masih says, adding, “I hid myself in the quarter quietly watching the barbaric killing of my brother and his wife.”
He alleges the kiln owner of collaborating with the local clerics those incited people for the attack.
“There is no need for evidence of this attack. It was quite open,” the DPO says. He says the matter of advance payment dispute is also under investigation and a high level committee has been set up by the chief minister and would present a report soon.
In Pakistan, the kiln workers work as bonded labour, getting advance money for several months and work hard as slaves at these places. The family of the victims had been working on the kiln for the past several years. They left a local Christian neighbourhood, Clarkabad, and settled in the village where there was a kiln in order to find work.
Desecration of the Holy Quran is part of the harsh blasphemy laws in Pakistan. In many cases, these blasphemy laws are used as a tool to settle personal scores, enmities, grab properties etc. Minority Christian community alleges these laws are used to persecute them in the name of religion in many cases.
A few weeks back, an official jail guard shot injured a prisoner Muhammad Asghar, sentenced to death under blasphemy laws, in the jail. He was reportedly influenced by the killer of governor Salmaan Taseer. The guard took a pistol with him into the prison against the law and went straight to the barrack where Asghar was kept and opened fire on him.
A delegation of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also visited the village and the kiln a few days back. “We have found no evidence of desecration of the Holy Quran. The allegation came up after the dispute over advance money between the owner and the family,” Mahboob Ahmed Khan, who led the fact-finding team, tells TNS. He says the involvement of those who incited the locals to attack the couple merely on hearsay is also very clear. The First Information Report (FIR) of the case, lodged by the police, also does not indicate any evidence of desecrating the pages of the Holy Quran.
Increasing intolerance in society over matters religious is becoming a matter of grave concern while the state seems oblivious, indifferent or worse still complicit. Usually, such cases end up with announcement of reasonable financial compensation leaving the culprits to be handled by a faulty and overburdened criminal justice system and the issue remains unsettled.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited the village and the kiln and announced Rupees five million and 10-acre piece of land for the grieved children with his rhetoric of “severest punishment to the culprits.”
Last Wednesday, in Gujrat, a mid-rank police officer Assistant Sub Inspector Faraz Naveed killed a Shia person, detained for allegedly uttering ‘blasphemous’ remarks against certain companions of Prophet Muhammad. Police received call from a local hotel in Gujrat and apprehended a Malang Tufail Haider and kept him in the lockup. “During the interrogation, the person allegedly continued to utter similar remarks and also abused the policemen,” a local police officer said. “He did not seem to be in his senses.” However, the officer got infuriated and late night took him to his office in the police station and axed him from neck.
In a number of incidents, violent and infuriated mobs incited by local clerics through announcements from mosques have taken the law in their hand and tortured the accused persons or burnt their properties. In 2013, a violent mob of several hundred had burnt 173 houses of Joseph colony, a Christian neighbourhood, after a Christian resident Sawan Masih was accused of uttering derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif taking strict notice of the incident has termed the act of mob “unforgivable” and against the spirit of Islam. But whether the government sets an example this time to stop this mob lynching is yet to be seen. Share !

Pakistan: Complete text of @AseefaBZ’s speech @OxfordUnion
I would like to begin by thanking the Oxford Union for inviting me to speak in this hallowed hall across from this beautiful portrait of my mother, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. During my Undergraduate years I used to attend quite a few of the socials here and it’s an honor to have finally made it up to this side of the podium. My mother spent some of her happiest times here at Oxford and it is very gracious of you to keep her memory alive at this renowned institution through events such as this one.
I would like to thank my fellow speakers, George Galloway and Aunty Victoria, for making time in their busy schedules. And I would like to thank my friends and family for joining me here today. I also would like to thank Saria Benazir for her lovely tribute to my mother.
I come today to speak not as a worker of a political party but as a daughter. My mother did not have the easiest of lives. Her time here was perhaps the last phase of her life where she wasn’t burdened by an intense and painful struggle for democracy. My siblings and I grew up predominantly in exile. Away from Pakistan, a country that though I had spent few years in, is where I consider, and have always considered my home.
My relationship with Pakistan is a bittersweet one. It is a land that has taken my grandfather, my uncles, my mother and my grandmother. It has also taken the lives of countless of my fellow party workers. But while Pakistan has taken so much from my family it has also given us so much. My grandfather, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in his death cell wrote frequently to my mother.
I would like to read an extract from one of his many letters that I believe sums up our experience of Pakistan perfectly. He wrote: ‘What gift can I give you from this cell out of which my hand cannot pass? I give you the hand of the people. What celebration can I hold for you. I give you the celebration of a celebrated memory and a celebrated name. You are the heir to and inheritor of the most ancient civilization. Please make your full contribution to making this ancient civilization the most progressive and the most powerful. By progressive and powerful I do not mean the most dreaded. A dreaded society is not a civilized society. The most progressive and powerful society in the civilized sense, is a society which has recognized its ethos, and come to terms with the past and the present, with religion and science, with modernism and mysticism, with materialism and spirituality; a society free of tension, a society rich in culture.’
The Benazir Bhutto I knew, quite obviously, was a different Benazir Bhutto to the one the people of Pakistan and the people of the world knew. She was always mama, never Madam Prime Minister or the leader of the largest political party in Pakistan or the 1st female PM in the Muslim world. The pressures of her struggle for democracy was always alive in her conscience and she devoted her life to this political struggle. But yet she never once made my siblings and I feel neglected. She was always there for us.Loving, kind, doting and strict.
My mother was keen, no matter what was going on, that we try to live as normal a family life as possible. One would think that living in exile and with my father in prison on politically motivated charges that this would be impossible but nothing would get in my mother’s way when she put her mind to it. While we were living in exile no matter what was going on in world affairs, at 7pm on weekdays, we always sat down together for family dinnertime. My mother would sit and ask us about our days, whether our homework was finished, something I rarely could answer in the affirmative, what we had learned at school, who our friends were – all the questions any caring and attentive parent asks.
However, regularly punctuating our moments of normalcy were the –“real world problems” that came with running the largest political party of a country that was trying to topple a dictatorship. I was always in awe of my mother. She was brave, strong, independent and remarkably intelligent. She was adored by millions and we as children always understood that we couldn’t keep her to ourselves, although I tried, I had to share our mother with the millions of Pakistanis who desired to see a peaceful, progressive and prosperous Pakistan.
Education was the most important thing to her. She always said that people could strip you of your wealth, your freedom, your dignity, but no one could ever strip you of your education. My mother always ensured that we got the best education. She strived for the same for each and every daughter and son of Pakistan. She believed that the children of Pakistan deserved better and she made investments in their education, nutrition and healthcare a priority for both her governments. During her governments, primary schools were built across Pakistan in an attempt to ensure that every child, regardless of caste, creed, ethnicity or social status had access to education, the most basic of human rights.
One of the most successful programmes she began was the health programme, which employed thousands of lady health workers to help reach out to rural women. The lady health worker program trained women in basic health care, travelling from village to village assisting with prenatal and postnatal care, and helping administer vaccinations to children. It was the last of these which peaked my interest because I was the first child given the Polio vaccination under the government’s programme in Pakistan. It always stayed with me. When I was a bit older I was asked by the UN to become their Ambassador for Polio in Pakistan. This was an opportunity for me to continue my mothers’ mission to eradicate this preventable disease.
As the Ambassador for Polio I took it upon myself to work with every level of government and bureaucracy to ensure unwavering commitment to eradicate polio. After years of meeting and speaking to countless workers and victims of this disease there is one story in particular that I would like to share with all of you today.
One of our elderly Lady Health Workers had joined the program because she had been brain washed into refusing polio drops for her only child, who as a result, unfortunately contracted this disease. Since then she has been part of LHW program because she wanted to spare other mothers and children from going through the same untold suffering that her family had to go through. She now goes door to door campaigning, regardless of the religious stigma, and countless terrorist attacks on her fellow workers.
In an ideal world no mother should have to go through what she has gone through, but this is not an ideal world. In Pakistan polio is on the rise, terrorists have deemed polio drops ‘a western/un-islamic drug’ that is a mass conspiracy to cause in fertility. In the last government and with the support of the international community, we began to make serious headway in tackling this disease and we were getting closer and closer to eradicating it once and for all from Pakistan.
Countless obstacles still stand in our path but I am clear on my mothers mission and so are the countless polio workers currently risking their lives everyday in Pakistan. They are committed to a polio free Pakistan. I am committed to a polio free Pakistan. My mother’s passion lives on through me and I will not give up on them – just as she didn’t. The people who resent me/my cause do so because I am a woman, I’m young and I’m a Bhutto. Well, the simple answer is, it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman, it doesn’t matter that I’m young and it’s a matter of pride that I’m a Bhutto.