Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Husband of one victim of botched operations speaks out as protesters take to the streets to demand chief minister’s resignationThirteen women who died in a mass sterilisation campaign in India spent their last hours in “tremendous pain”, relatives have said. About 80 women attended the free government-run camp in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Saturday where they underwent laparoscopic tubectomies, usually a straightforward surgical procedure. About 60 fell ill shortly afterwards, officials said, with 20 still in a very serious condition. The death toll is expected to rise. Family members have claimed the women were pressured to accept 1,400 rupees (£14), the equivalent of two weeks’ work for a manual labourer, to undergo the procedure. “The [health workers] said nothing would happen, it was a minor operation. They herded them like cattle,” Mahesh Suryavanshi, the brother-in-law of one casualty, told the Indian Express newspaper. Such camps are held regularly across India as part of a long-running effort to control population growth. Four doctors and officials have been suspended and police have registered a criminal complaint. The dead included a woman who had given birth only days before. Others were reported to have been suffering from anaemia, severe asthma and diabetes. None appeared to have been properly examined before the operation. Ramavtar Suryavanshi, husband of one victim, described how his wife was told she would be home by sunset and back to work in the fields within two days with the equivalent of about 10 days’ wages as a manual labourer in her pocket. Instead, the 35-year-old mother-of-five was incapacitated within hours of having the surgery and died “in tremendous pain” within 20 minutes of being admitted to hospital the next morning. Survivors were described as being in a state of shock by KN Choudhary, a doctor at Chhattisgarh Institute of Medical Science, where several women are being treated. The operations were carried out by a doctor and his assistant in about three hours. He has been described as highly experienced. A suspended official said the daily target for one team was 40 sterilisations “but the number of operations held on Saturday was double that figure”. The state’s surgeons have been debating whether to continue with Chhattisgarh’s sterilisation schedule, which has an annual target of 180,000 set by the central government, officials said. Health workers, including doctors, are paid for each operation completed. Basics such as disinfectant are in short supply and are watered down to save money. Corruption is rife. The exact cause of the deaths is not yet clear but officials said they suspected infection caused by unclean surgical equipment. Government guidelines recommending that a surgeon should not use a single instrument for more than 10 operations appear to have been ignored. The women were discharged immediately and given no follow-up care, reports said. Another possible cause of the tragedy was contaminated medicine. Drugs within the public health system in India are often badly prepared, with varying dosages, or out of date. Regulation of the vast drug manufacturing sector is limited. “Preliminary reports show that the medicines administered were spurious and also the equipment used was rusted,” Siddharth Komal Singh Pardeshi, a senior local government official, told Reuters. The state government of Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest states, sent a plane to Delhi overnight to pick up a team of doctors “to ensure no time is lost” in treating the patients, the national health secretary, Lov Verma, told the Press Trust of India agency. Furious protesters took to the streets in the state capital of Raipur on Wednesday, smashing up cars and demanding the chief minister resign. Many appeared to be workers from the opposition Congress party, observers said. Local governments in India often offer incentives, such as cars and electrical goods, to women volunteering for sterilisation. Health advocates worry that paying women to undergo sterilisation at family planning camps is dangerous and, by default, limits their contraceptive choices. India’s family planning programme has traditionally focused on women and experts say male sterilisation is still not accepted socially. “The payment is a form of coercion, especially when you are dealing with marginalised communities,” said Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in Delhi. Pratap Singh, commissioner of Chhattisgarh’s department of health and family welfare, told Reuters that the state’s sterilisation programme was voluntary. The state government has announced compensation packages of 400,000 rupees for the families of the women who died and 50,000 rupees for those in hospital. Payments are customary in such cases in India. “I would have been happier if they gave her the right treatment instead of giving her the money,” said Suryavanshi, the widower. Sterilization and population growth No government has successfully formulated policies to manage India’s population growth, which stands at 1.6% a year, down from a high of about 2.3% in the 1970s. That decade saw aggressive sterilisation campaigns that have stigmatised family planning ever since. India is forecast to become the world’s most populous country in 2030, with numbers approaching 1.5 billion. India was the first country in the world to introduce a population control policy in the 1950s and has missed successive objectives ever since. Though large numbers of young people can be an economic advantage, a combination of unfulfilled aspirations, scarce land and water, overcrowding in growing cities as well as inadequate infrastructure could lead to social tensions and political instability. One problem is a gender imbalance, a result of selective abortion of girls. In some communities there are fewer than eight women for every 10 men, with the ratio skewed even further among younger people. A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent grievance redress system to allow people to report coercion and poor quality services at sterilisation centres. It also said the government should prioritise training for male government workers to provide men with information and counselling about contraceptive choices, but despite the recommendations to the government problems persist on the ground.
http://www.tolonews.com/The Afghan delegation to accompany President Ashraf Ghani in his visit to Pakistan have expressed optimism about the Islamabad visit, believing they will achieve Pakistan's honest commitments in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan's sincerity to Afghanistan's peace efforts is at the top of the agenda to be discussed with the neighboring country, said the delegation who will visit Islamabad on Friday. These statements are expressed as Pakistan has been accused several times of not contributing honestly to Afghanistan's peace efforts. But now the new Afghan President is hopeful of a positive outcome of his first visit to Pakistan, a country which has been accused globally of supporting insurgency. "As far as I know, peace and security issues are at the top of our agenda," said Nematullah Ghafari, a delegation member. Alongside the security issues, the officials of the two countries are said to also discuss economic and transit matters. "Economic matters are also part of these dialogues," another delegation member Sayed Farukh Shah said. "As long as Afghanistan does not reach economic and political stability, Pakistan will continue to interfere in our internal affairs." According to analysts, Pakistan can play a vital role in Afghanistan's peace and stability, however, on several accounts Islamabad's role has been doubtful. Former President Hamid Karzai during his 13 years of rule travelled to Pakistan several times but failed to persuade Pakistan to stop backing insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
If Mr. Ghani is to truly attack this powerful web of interlocking interests, his main obstacle is political.A serious customs overhaul would hurt the interests of major tribal or regional power brokers with links to Mr. Ghani or the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. The main border post in the north is controlled by Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of Balkh Province and a prominent supporter of Mr. Abdullah. In the south, the powerful police chief of Kandahar, Gen. Abdul Raziq, has a tight grip on border posts at Spin Boldak, with Pakistan, and Nimroz, with Iran. Aside from its sheer cost, endemic corruption is also a sign of pessimism among Afghanistan’s elites, whose hoarding of assets has been widely interpreted as a sign of worry as Western aid slows down and Western combat troops pull out. Mr. Ghani will seek to allay some of those fears by securing promises of continuing international aid at a donor conference due to take place in London late this month or early the next. But he is also showing a steely hand on corruption. Just a few weeks into his tenure, he has already reinvigorated the stalled court investigation into the $900 million Kabul Bank fraud scandal. And he vowed to shake up the office of the attorney general, Mohammad Ishaq Aloko. “People must trust it,” he said in a Twitter message posted on Oct. 8. But with the political situation still fragile, some here worry that Mr. Ghani may be moving too quickly. “Corruption has become so interwoven with the political system in Afghanistan that it’s going to take years to undo,” one American official said. “And you can’t forget that Afghanistan is a treacherous place, where some actors are capable of anything.”
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high this year, rising by seven percent over the 2013 figure and accounting for 90 percent of the world's heroin supply, officials and the United Nations said on Wednesday. The U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report that the increased cultivation could produce 6,400 tons (7,054 U.S. tons) of opium, or 17 percent more than in 2013. Afghanistan's Minister for Counter-Narcotics Din Mohammad Mubariz Rashidi urged countries around the world to give fresh impetus to controlling the drug's production and trade. "The international community must fight opium drugs and poppy cultivation in Afghanistan as seriously as they fight terrorism," he said. The area used for poppy cultivation grew to 224,000 hectares (553,500 acres), 89 percent of it in nine provinces with a significant Taliban presence, the U.N. report said. The Taliban, which have been waging war against the Afghan government since 2001, are heavily involved in poppy cultivation and opium distribution. The report said that the wholesale price of opium was falling because of increased supply, but the value of the crop was equivalent to 4 percent of the country's GDP, which is $22 billion. Andrey Avetisyan, the UNODC's regional representative, said that with the end of the U.S. and NATO combat mission in December, the production of opium had to be tackled if Afghanistan was to develop its post-war economy. "Without tackling the problem of drugs seriously, no serious economic achievement is possible to develop Afghanistan," he told reporters. "To help Afghanistan with economic development, we all together have to finally seriously do something with the threat of narcotics." Billions of dollars have been spent on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan in the past decade, including programs encouraging farmers to switch to other cash crops like wheat, fruit and saffron. The support farmers receive from the Taliban, like fertilizer and cash advances, are strong incentives for poor farmers to stick with poppy rather than wait years for a return on lower-yield produce with uncertain markets and inadequate means of storage and transport.
That is saying something, in a nation where Christians are commonly treated like second-class citizens – if not animals, where mobs of extremists have attacked Christian villages forcing the residents to flee or die, and where the small minority of courageous Muslims who stand up for Christians also become victims of the enraged. But it is hard to imagine anything more horrific than the murder of Sajjad Masih and his pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, the parents of four children. Accused of “desecrating the Koran,” the couple was held in a room next to the brick kiln where they were bonded laborers while the local mosques worked up the usual suspects, some accounts say 2,000, some say as many as 4,000. The Muslim mob dragged the couple outside, beat them, broke their legs so they could not get away, and threw them – still alive – into the kiln’s furnace. Disturbingly, the same, or a similar fate, could await Asia Bibi, if Pakistan’s Supreme Court should overturn her death sentence. Her only hope would be to immediately flee the country with her family. Not sure what hope there would be for any Supreme Court justices who might pardon her. The High Court in Lahore did not venture into justice, most probably because they knew the repercussions they would face from Muslim “mobs.” Along with other religious freedom activists and human rights organizations we are outraged over the October 16, 2014 decision to uphold the death penalty against Bibi, who has been on death row for four years on the blasphemy charge. Bibi is the only woman this century to have been condemned to death for blasphemy. She also has a price on her head, offered by a radical Muslim cleric who is encouraging Pakistan’s Taliban to “finish her.”
The Pakistani military has claimed to have killed 13 terrorists, including those involved in the Wagah border suicide attack, in aerial strikes, media reported. The strikes were undertaken on Tuesday in the Daras area of Khyber Agency, on the basis of "credible intelligence about the presence of terrorists involved in the Wagah attack", Dawn reported citing an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement. Khyber is part of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and is one of the eight tribal areas, which are known as "agencies" in Pakistan. Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants are believed to have carved out strongholds in this region. During the strikes, fighter jets destroyed three militant hideouts including an ammunition depot, the report said. Intelligence sources believe that the mastermind and handlers of the Wagah border terrorist attack might be among the dead. Pakistani relatives gather beside the covered bodies of victims who were killed in bomb attack at Wagah border near Lahore. (AFP Photo) The information, however, could not be verified independently. At least 60 people were killed and over 200 injured when a teenaged suicide bomber blew himself up near the Wagah border in Pakistan on November 2 during the flag-lowering ceremony at the border. Pakistani mourners carry the bodies of blast victims during a funeral in Lahore on November 3, 2014, a day after a suicide bombing that killed 55 at the Wagah border. Claiming responsibility for the attack, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, had said that the attack was as much aimed at India as Pakistan. The aerial strikes by the Pakistani military came as part of its offensive against local and foreign militants in the tribal regions of north Waziristan and Khyber.
Posters, stickers and wall-chalking supporting ISIS have appeared some 15km from Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif's Lahore farmhouse, prompting authorities to launch a probe into the possible presence of the militant outfit in the city. The Lahore police have launched a search operation and took some suspects into custody after the display of ISIS posters and stickers inscribing 'Ummah of Khilafat Mubarik' in Nawab Town and Thokar Niaz Baig, some 15km from the Raiwind residence of Sharif. The wall chalking in favour of ISIS also appeared in Hunjerwal and Canal Road in Lahore. Police have registered an FIR for wall chalking and display of posters and stickers. "We have registered a case against elements involved in wall chalking and display of posters of ISIS. Police and other agencies have been launched an investigation into the matter to find out those behind it," deputy inspector general Punjab police Haider Ashraf said.
عوامی نیشنل پارٹی (اے این پی) کے رہنماءاسفند یار ولی نے کہا ہے 2013ءکے انتخابات میں الیکشن مہم سے روکا گیا۔ پریس کانفرنس سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے اسفند یار ولی نے کہا کہ ہمیں 2013ءکے الیکشن سے باہر رکھا گیا، عام انتخابات میں لوگ ووٹ مانگ رہے تھے اور ہم جنازے اٹھا رہے تھے، اے این پی اس معاملے پر پرامن احتجاج کرے گی۔ ایک سوال کے جواب میں ان کا کہنا تھا کہ نواز شریف کو نہیں بچا رہے لیکن کنپٹی پر پستول رکھ کر استعفیٰ قبول نہیں ہے۔
According to media report, the Apex court also issued directions to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Interfaith Harmony and Establishment Division to present their explanations for not fulfilling the order of minority’s protection. Supreme Court questioned the government about its failure to implement SC’s order to protect the minorities in the country. A copy of SC’s decision has been sent to respective departments with proposals of various steps for the security of minorities. Prior to this, Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif set up a 3-member committee to probe the incident of Kot Radha Kishan. A Pakistani Christian couple Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama Bibi were labourers and residents of Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan were set on fire by an angry mob over accusations of blasphemy. Police registered FIR against 400 unknown people while police has been searching for more suspected men. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had ruled previously that the government must take steps to protect the country’s Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and other religious minorities. The then Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani acknowledged the persecution that non-Muslims in Pakistan face persecution and discrimination while he placed the blame directly on the leaders. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/supreme-court-of-pakistan-questions-pm-cm-and-other-ministers-over-kot-radha-kishan-incident/#sthash.BAlM6ZO6.dpuf
A Shia trader Hassan Wajid Qazlbash has been shot martyred by pro-ISIS takfiri terrorists of Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) in Peshawar on Tuesday, The Shia Post reports. Martyr Wajid Hassan Qazlbash was targeted in Qisa Khani Bazar area. He was sitting at his medical store where takfiri nasbi terrorists of pro-Taliban and pro-Daesh, outlawed ASWJ stormed into and opened fire upon him. He was martyred on the spot. It was second incident of its kind in a week in Peshawar city. Takfiri nabsi terrorists are freely perpetrating targeted assassinations of Shia notables.
The more we hear about the killing of the Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad Masih, the greater grows the horror of what took place that day a week ago at Kot Radha Kishan. The six-year-old son of the couple, one of four small children orphaned by the incident, has given gory details of how his parents were beaten till they bled, tied to a tractor and dragged through the streets and then thrown into the brick kiln, dead or alive, we do not quite know, where their bodies were reduced to ashes. The children were dragged away to safety by their grandfather. The trauma of what they saw will live with them forever, and the Rs5 million compensation and 10 acres of land given to them by the Punjab chief minister will not change this, though in practical terms, it may make their lives just a little better. But what of life for other non-Muslims in the country? What can they expect for the future? We have read already of the fear descending over minority communities in the wake of the brutal murders. We already know that a local cleric possibly acted to incite the violence in Kot Radha Kishan. The police, who have made dozens of arrests since the murders, say they were on that day spread too thin due to Ashura. This claim needs to be inquired into although this in no way absolves the police of the responsibility of protecting the unfortunate couple. But surely, we should also be asking why local people did not act to save the young couple? Why did no one speak up for them? What happened at Kot Radha Kishan exposes a great deal about our society within which people can be killed without being given any opportunity to defend themselves. The poor, like the latest victims, who were unable to flee as they were bonded labourers, are perhaps the most vulnerable of all to abuse of this kind. Many questions need to be asked and answered effectively. We hope they will be.
For months now Imran Khan has been demonstrating that we are living in an age defined by uncouth and ill-mannered leaders. He has been using foul language against the government, legislators, bureaucrats, the judiciary, the election commission and its members. He did not even spare the US ambassador to Pakistan or the Chinese government. The result is that no one in his right mind is ready to venture into any territory that might involve the opposition’s consensus for its initiation. First Justice (retd) Rana Bhagwandas, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, refused to become the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and now it is Justice (retd) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, again a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, who has declined the offer. The refusal of these two leading and highly respected members of the judiciary to head the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), throws light on the damage Imran Khan’s accusations have wrought to the democratic process. Thanks to Imran and his aspersions against anyone who fails to size up to his expectations of helping him become the country’s prime minister, the task of appointing the CEC may not be able to meet the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) deadline of November 13 (tomorrow). The disservice Imran has done to the country by making its institutions, it leaders and its laws controversial can become a thorn in the side of his own political career that might eventually pull him down, something that might already have begun. Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has put forward two conditions for considering becoming the CEC. One is that the ECP is made as independent as is the Election Commission of India. Two, he does not want his name to be challenged once finalised for the candidacy. As far as the first condition is concerned, no one can deny the importance of having an independent ECP, be it on the lines of India or not. But achieving this in a matter of days, since November 13 is the deadline by which the new CEC should be appointed as per the orders of the SC, is demanding the unachievable. The second condition though sounds cautious, considering the stature of a Chief Justice of Pakistan, and especially of someone who had already served as the acting CEC. The government is here as much to be blamed as Imran for acting unwisely and making the ECP controversial. Why is it that the government has to be pushed to abide by the constitution in nearly every case? The appointment of the CEC should have been completed when Fakhruddin G Ibrahim had resigned and without the goading of the SC. Let us see how the government goes about achieving this (seemingly) Herculean task, now that the deadline is looming over its head.
The Punjab Directorate of Health Services (DHS) seems indifferent to the plight of hepatitis patients despite knowing the fact that the chronic disease has been declared “most prevalent” in Pakistan. A senior official has pointed out many flaws that are affecting the drive to curtail the chronic viral hepatitis in the largest province of the country. He told Dawn that the DHS’ Hepatitis Control Programme was practically dysfunctional due to the negligence of the authorities concerned. The number of patients with all types of hepatitis virus was increasing manifold and this upward trend was going unchecked in Punjab, he said. He cited some reports on the prevalence of this chronic disease that depict an alarming situation in Pakistan in general and Punjab in particular. According to a recent World Health Organization report, he said, the world had been divided into three zones -- high hepatitis prevalent, intermediate, and low prevalent zones -- and “Pakistan stands in the intermediate zone.” And it is feared that Pakistan is heading towards the first zone since the government is introducing flawed programme to fight this menace. Similarly, the report said, all five hepatitis viruses were prevalent in Pakistan. It said hepatitis A and E infections were endemic due to poor water and sewage systems. “Although the two viral infections occur in their sporadic form, mini-epidemics of hepatitis E occur regularly during monsoon rains and floods due to major contamination of drinking water with sewage.” The WHO report further said it’s estimated that nearly four million people in the country had been exposed to hepatitis B virus and about eight million to hepatitis C virus. “Hepatitis D virus is prevalent in certain districts of Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh due to the existing hepatitis B cases and low coverage of hepatitis B vaccine in this high-risk population.” On the other hand, the official said, the gravity of the situation could be judged from the fact that the Directorate Health Services of the largest province (Punjab) was managing hepatitis control programme on the basis of six-year old statistics. “Normally, fresh statistics are believed to be pivotal in devising effective strategies and policies for the success of a programme,” he said. Gathered by the Pakistan Medical Research Council in a survey carried out in 2007-8, these figures were being communicated by the DHS in the official meetings, ceremonies and seminars as reference, he said. He said the Hepatitis Control Programme was also making strategies and planning on the basis of these ‘outdated’ statistics. The official said the Punjab government had recently observed a week to create awareness about prevention and cure of hepatitis. The director general health shared statistics of the PMRC 2007-8 survey about the burden of the hepatitis disease in Punjab which shocked the medical and public health experts. The experts were expecting that the department would come up with fresh statistics about the disease’s burden. Moreover, the official said, the Hepatitis Control Programme, launched in 2006, was being run on the basis of a PC-I despite being an “endemic issue”. The official said instead of making the programme a permanent feature of the health system, the PC-I was being revised every year. The PC-I took at least two to four months for approval every year and during this period the programme remained dysfunctional. After devolution of the health chapter to the provinces, the federal government had time and again asked the provinces to look after the subject at their level. However, the Directorate made no effort to compile its own data to know the scale or ratio of the patients affected by the virus. “The Directorate has failed to establish authority or body at the provincial level to conduct fresh survey to update it about the actual burden of the diseases including hepatitis,” the official said. The Directorate has been running the programme without its head for the last few months. Currently, the Punjab DG health is holding the portfolio of its director. The official said the situation was also disturbing on curative side. “The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a relatively simple and inexpensive tool for diagnosing diseases. It is the only reliable method of diagnosing hepatitis C but unfortunately it is available in one teaching hospital – Jinnah Hospital – in Lahore catering a population of more than 10 million people,” he said. An employee of the Jinnah Hospital told Dawn that the lab was collecting blood samples of only 50 patients daily for diagnosing hepatitis C. He said more than 150 patients visited the lab for this test but the institute’s management had fixed a quota of 50 due to limited budget and manpower. “We receive blood samples from 8pm to 11am daily,” he said, adding that a PCR test for hepatitis C cost between Rs5,000 and 12,000 in the private sector. He said the hospital lab issued reports against each sample a month after receiving the blood sample due to rush of patients. Health Secretary Jawad Rafique Malik said the department had various proposals to revamp the directorate. He said after devolution of the health sector to provinces, the Punjab health department had started registration of 100,000 more hepatitis patients from the level of the teaching institutes to the THQ hospitals. Earlier, only 50,000 patients were registered under the Hepatitis Control Programme. He expressed his annoyance over the presentation of six-year old statistics by the health director general saying the programme management should consolidate data afresh.
The recently launched military operation in Bara may have been overshadowed by the bigger, months-old campaign in North Waziristan, but it is an important piece in the overall fight against militancy in the country for two reasons. One, Bara tehsil’s proximity to Peshawar allows militants based in that part of the tribal areas to have an outsize effect on the security and stability of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital and largest city. Two, the Mangal Bagh-led Lashkar-i-Islam had established a comprehensive fiefdom that had removed the region under its control for many years from nearly any semblance of being under the authority, or even influence, of the Pakistani state. Unhappily, neither the army nor the civilian government has tried to explain much to the public about what the state is trying to achieve in Khyber Agency. Contrast the publicity blitz — though often devoid of facts — that has characterised the North Waziristan operation. Yet, piecing together what officials have said publicly — as during the Khyber political agent’s press conference on Monday — and military officials are claiming privately, it does appear that, unlike other mini operations in the past when the state has declared victory only to launch another mini operation a year or even a few months later, this time the army does mean business. More resources have been deployed this time round and more thought appears to have gone into planning the operation. It appears that the plan is to begin by retaking the Bara plains before moving on to the mountainous Tirah region. But it will not be easy, as the loss of over a dozen security personnel in the first days of the operation demonstrated. While Mangal Bagh’s organisation has been weakened by defections and other losses, the TTP breakaway faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, has established a threatening presence in the agency. Read: New TTP group 'Jamatul Ahrar' breaks away from Mullah Fazlullah Moreover, with Mangal Bagh himself believed to be hiding out somewhere along the Pak-Afghan border, perhaps even on the Afghan side, the military has a hardened group of militant leaders to contend with — even after the elimination of Abu Jandal of the Ahrar faction. As with all such operations, two related issues are worth highlighting. One, Bara underlines, as though further emphasis was needed, the failed strategy of seeking to use criminals masquerading as Islamist militants as a buffer against militants fighting the Pakistani state. While his relationship with the Pakistani security establishment has hardly been a friendly one, Mangal Bagh was certainly seen at various points as a better alternative to the banned TTP. But such explicit or sometimes tacit deals only allowed for the expansion of militancy in Fata — because the so-called good Taliban or friendly militants always ended up creating more space for the TTP-type, anti-state militants, sometimes even opportunistically aligning with them. Second, there are a quarter of a million IDPs from Khyber — how much is the state doing to help them?
By KUNWAR SHAHID
The number of Pakistanis being sentenced or killed for blaspheming against the accepted strain of Sunni Islam is on the riseBritish citizens have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan in the past year, both narrowly escaping with their lives. Masud Ahmed, an Ahmadi Muslim doctor, was arrested last November for ‘pretending to be a Muslim’, after a man posing as a patient recorded him reading the Quran. Pakistan’s Constitution ‘officially’ excommunicated Ahmadi Muslims in 1974, with the Pakistan Penal Code barring the community from ‘using Islamic titles’, ‘posing as Muslims’, or ‘outraging the religious sentiments of Muslims’. In Pakistan you can be jailed for reading the Quran if you happen to belong to the Ahmaddiya sect. Hundreds of people queued up outside the police station where Ahmed was held, vying to punish ‘the blasphemer’ with their own hands. Luckily, Ahmed got bail on the third attempt and is now living safely in Glasgow with his children and grandchildren. Mohammad Asghar, meanwhile, is still in Pakistan, after being arrested on blasphemy charges for proclaiming prophethood in January. Asghar was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2010 and is mentally unstable. Whilst in jail he was shot at by a prison guard; the guard had been incited to act by former police officer Mumtaz Qadri, who was in the same prison for murdering Salmaan Taseer in 2011. Taseer, a renowned businessman and the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most powerful province, was gunned down by Qadri, his security guard, for calling for reforms in the blasphemy law. Taseer had also publicly supported Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad in 2010. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by Lahore High Court last month, with all appeals to pardon her having been rejected. While human rights activists were busy raising global awareness for Asia Bibi’s cause following last month’s verdict, a Christian couple was burnt alive for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. The woman was five months pregnant. A similar allegation was launched against Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl, who managed to flee to Canada last year. On Thursday, a Pakistani police officer killed a man with an axe for allegedly blaspheming against the companions of Prophet Muhammad. Meanwhile, two ostensibly secular Pakistani political parties, PPP and MQM, have been at loggerheads recently over blasphemy accusations, with PPP leader Khurshid Shah accused of blasphemy for labelling the word mohajir (immigrant) derogatory. Mohajir is the word that is used to describe Prophet Muhammad and his companions who migrated from Mecca to Medina. Ironically, these two seemingly secular political parties have perfectly demonstrated how Pakistan’s blasphemy law is misused to settle personal scores. From Asia Bibi to the murdered Christian couple, blasphemy is being used as a garb with which to conceal petty animosities, at the cost of human life. Some critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law have suggested that it is a remnant of the British colonial past. Upon independence, Pakistan adopted the Indian Penal Code that was written for British India by Lord Macaulay in 1860. Article 295 of the Indian (and Pakistani) Penal Code protects all worship places, with Article 295-A added to quell any ‘deliberate and malicious’ attempts to outrage religious sentiments. The amendment was made by the British Raj as an attempt to curtail communal riots after Mahashay Rajpal, a Hindu publisher, was killed in 1927 for publishing a book deemed to be offensive to the Prophet Muhammad. In the 1980s, former Pakistani president and Islamist dictator Ziaul Haq added clauses 295-B and 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. These were Islam-specific and sanctioned the death penalty for blasphemy. Not only have the Islamic clauses made the blasphemy law irrevocable, they have further tightened the noose around Pakistani minorities by increasing incidence of blasphemy accusations. Between 1986 and 2013 there were 1,274 formal blasphemy accusations, compared to only 14 between 1947 and 1986. Pakistani Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadis have long been persecuted by these draconian laws. The Shia, who represent one fifth of the country’s population, have also come under fire recently. For the Shia there are echoes of the climate that in 1974 led Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of PPP and Pakistan’s first democratically elected leader, to declare Ahmadis heretics. While the Ahmadis were apostatised for not following the mainstream interpretation of the ‘finality of prophethood’, the Shia are accused of heresy for not recognising the first three caliphs of Islam, who the Sunnis revere. Pakistani blasphemy law is becoming a relentless guillotine for minorities, with hardliners calling for all Pakistani Muslims to adhere to an identical and extremist brand of Islam, as flaunted by the likes of IS, al-Qaeda and of course Saudi Arabia. The law is not only a threat to British Pakistanis belonging to minority Islamic sects, but for any rationalist. Pakistan is one of 13 countries, all of which are Muslim majority, where apostasy or atheism is punishable by death. Although nobody has as yet been officially executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, many have been butchered publicly by people taking the law into their own hands. In the past two months alone, two Sunni Muslims – a defence lawyer in a blasphemy case, and a university dean propagating a liberal brand of Islam – have been murdered in broad daylight, clearly highlighting the threat that Pakistan’s blasphemy law poses to humanity.
Tensions with nuclear-armed Pakistan may influence Iran’s calculus regarding its own nuclear program.The long-standing tensions between Iran and Pakistan over proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the use of militant proxies for regional power projection, and divergent geopolitical alignments remain one of the oft-neglected strategic factors that may influence Tehran’s nuclear calculus in salient ways. Such a consideration carries much greater significance today, when decade-long negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, U.S., and Germany) over the Iranian atomic venture have reached a very sensitive stage. Once they escalate into a systematic pattern, as suggested by developments over the past years, Tehran-Islamabad tensions will constitute a totally new security front for the Islamic Republic and are thus likely to exert a cynical impact on its nuclear logic. Iran’s relationship with Sunni-majority Pakistan has often been one of restrained fear and loathing, dating back to the spring of 1998. In 1998, following nuclear tests by India, Pakistan conducted a series of atomic tests and thus became Iran’s sole neighbor with nuclear weapons capability. In August the same year, the Taliban forces — who had established their “Emirate” in Afghanistan after toppling the Afghan government with the assistance of Islamabad in 1996 — captured the Iranian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif and killed 11 members of its diplomatic and media corps. Alarm bells rang in Tehran, but threats of military action and a ceremonial deployment of troops along the border with Afghanistan was all that ensued in response. Later, it was discovered that the murders had been carried out by Sipah-e-Sahaba, a rabidly anti-Shiite militant organization with close connections to the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. Pakistan’s nuclear status must have been in the minds of Iranian leaders and strategists, who stopped short of military intervention against the Islamabad-backed militants in Afghanistan. No wonder Iran rushed to help the U.S.-led coalition overthrow the Taliban government three years later. Over the past decade, narcotic trafficking, banditry, kidnapping and cross-border attacks have been rampant in the Baluchistan region straddling Iran and Pakistan. Yet, the militant threat reached a turning point in October 2009 when a suicide operation by the “Jundullah” separatist group in the Iranian border town of Pishin claimed the lives of over 30 people, including two senior Revolutionary Guard commanders. Though the group’s leader Abdolmalek Rigi was later apprehended and executed in Tehran, bilateral tensions as a consequence of Sunni militant activity have recently escalated into deadly border skirmishes engaging conventional military forces of both sides. In mid-October this year, Islamabad filed a diplomatic protest with Tehran after attempts by Iranian security forces to chase militants across the border led to the death of a Pakistani Frontier Corps paramilitary and left four other soldiers wounded. Shortly afterwards and in an unprecedented escalation, the two sides exchanged mortar fire. As a matter of fact, Iran does not have many friends in the region (hence Tehran’s obsessive defense of Bashar al-Assad in Syria), while its unique foreign policy vision in general and nuclear ambitions in particular have alienated and in some cases antagonized world powers. Nor does the Islamic Republic enjoy the protective cover of a powerful nuclear-weapons state (NWS) as in the case, say, of South Korea and Japan, both of which fall under the “nuclear umbrella” of the United States. If the Iranian leadership has drawn one single historical lesson from the bitter-ended Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), it is the realist maxim of “self-help”: they will have to fight single-handedly should any serious conflict or conflagration break out within their borders or beyond. This applies today as much as it did in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. Iran’s concerns about Pakistan’s atomic capability are mainly two-fold. As the “fastest-growing” arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world, Pakistani nukes — or more likely, sensitive nuclear technology — run the risk of falling into the wrong hands, given the embedded presence of Sunni militant groups throughout the land as well as the close ties between these groups and certain segments of the military-security establishment that generally oversees Islamabad’s nuclear activities. After all, Pakistan has a long track record in employing the export of militancy as an instrument of foreign policy making. As the foremost Shiite power in the Middle East, Iran sees itself as the immediate target in the eventuality of such scenarios due to its ideology but also its geographical proximity. These fears have been intensified by the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) and the transnational links it is trying to foster with the Pakistani Taliban and Sunni jihadists in South Asia among others. Over a year into its inception, it is no secret today that IS is frantically scrambling to get its hands on weapons of mass destruction including chemical and biological agents, which the terror group has reportedly used against Kurdish fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobani and Iraqi forces in the Salahuddin province. IS and its like-minded Sunni sympathizers regard Shiites — particularly Iranians — as “Safawi” and “Rafida,” pejorative terms referring to those Muslims who are perceived to have deviated from the true path of Islam and dismissed the authentic Islamic tradition, hence more legitimate targets for “believers” than the Western “infidels.” Tehran also has serious apprehensions about Pakistan’s strategic alliance with its archrival and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which is largely driven by a common sectarian ideology. Riyadh has invested heavily in the Pakistani nuclear program and is believed to be able to obtain atomic weapons from Islamabad at will. In the words of a senior Pakistani official aware of the unwritten covenant between the two capitals, “What did we think the Saudis were giving us all that money for? It wasn’t charity.” Amos Yaldin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, has similarly observed that if Iranians manage to acquire nukes, “The Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.” Yet Tehran’s worry is that, in certain circumstances, Riyadh may take such an action even without the materialization of an Iranian bomb. What are the implications of all this for the ongoing nuclear negotiations? Arguably, this complex dynamic can act as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it may dispose the Iranian leadership to stand their ground firmly and leave ample space for deterrent action in the face of mounting threats in the neighborhood. Such a “tragic” view, needless to say, bodes poorly for the prospects of a comprehensive deal. On the other hand, it may persuade Tehran to lose no time facilitating an ultimate agreement over its nuclear venture, so it can integrate fully into the fold of international community and thus enjoy the normative checks and balances that keep states from transgressing each other’s national sovereignty and security. What is beyond doubt, however, is that should talks fail, the Pakistan factor will play a more prominent role than ever before in Iran’s nuclear calculus.
The Lahore High Court gave the federal government on Tuesday an opportunity to replace Maryam Nawaz with another individual as chairperson of the Prime Minister Youth Loan Programme. “The chairperson has to be changed,” Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah observed during the hearing of a petition filed by Zubair Niazi, a local leader of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, against the appointment. The judge, however, said the court was showing grace by giving a chance to the government to change the chairperson in a lawful and transparent manner. During the hearing, deputy attorney general Amir Rehman presented academic credentials of Ms Maryam, but withdrew them after failing to answer a query whether the Ph.D. degree was actual or honorary. He said the details presented before the court were collected from the internet. Justice Shah also expressed wonder over the combination of degrees – M.A. (English Literature) and Ph.D. in Political Science – earned by Maryam Nawaz. Defending the impugned appointment, the deputy attorney general argued that the office of the chairperson was not a public office but a sort of focal person. He said holding of the chairperson’s post by Maryam Nawaz did not affect the disbursement of funds. The judge asked the law officer whether a cook could be appointed as focal person in the name of prerogative. The court also rejected the argument that appointment of foreign ambassadors was also an example of the prime minister’s prerogative and observed that public money was involved in the instant case. The court adjourned the hearing for two hours with directives to the law officer to come up with instructions from the federal government whether it was willing to consider the in-house change. The deputy attorney general appeared before the court at 3pm and said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on an official visit to Germany and would return on Thursday. He requested the court to defer the matter till return of the prime minister because his point of view was essential to answer the court’s query. The petitioner’s counsel opposed the request, but the judge adjourned the hearing till Friday and directed the law officer to come up with a lawful and transparent mechanism for the new appointment along with academic credentials of Maryam Nawaz. Earlier, the petitioner’s counsel argued that the appointment of Maryam Nawaz was a case of sheer nepotism. He said the appointment had been made in violation of law and several judgments passed by the Supreme Court. He said neither a public notice nor an advertisement was issued before the appointment. The counsel requested the court to set aside the impugned appointment and pass a detailed judgment on the matter.