Monday, November 17, 2014
State-by-state report links racial disparities, increasing poverty and domestic violence to rising rates as southern states rank particularly poorly.One in 30 American children are homeless, according to a new state-by-state report that finds racial disparities, increasing poverty and domestic violence responsible for the historic high. According to the report released on Monday by the National Center on Family Homelessness, child homelessness increased in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 2.5 million children experienced homelessness in the US in 2013, an 8% rise nationally from 2012. California and states in the south and south-west ranked particularly poorly in an analysis of homelessness, state responses and associated factors. According to the report, California has more than 500,000 homeless children, a high cost of living and only 11,316 housing units for homeless families; only Alabama and Mississippi, with chronically bad poverty rates, ranked worse. “Child homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in America,” Dr Carmela DeCandia, director of the center, said in a release with the report. “Living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds and worse – homeless children are the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society.” Factors that cause the high rates of child homelessness included high rates of family poverty, particularly in houses headed by single women who are black or Hispanic; a dearth of affordable housing for low-income families; fallout from the recession economy, such as foreclosures and debt; long-lasting effects of trauma; and institutional racism resulting in economic segregation. The report cites a 1999 finding that black children under five were 29 times more likely than white children to be in an emergency shelter. The report makes special note of the potentially devastating long-term effects of poverty and homelessness on children, showing research that indicates “up to 25% of homeless pre-school children have mental health problems … this increases to 40% among homeless school-age children.” The compilation of Department of Education data, medical and societal research finds that homeless children are more likely to get sick, miss school and have cognitive and emotional problems. North-east and midwest states and Hawaii rank among those best prepared to prevent child homelessness. Minnesota, Nebraska and Massachusetts, rated best, each have relatively low levels of poverty and effective state policies. The National Center on Family Homelessness, part of a larger, private non-profit, the American Institutes for Research, endorses new plans to support mothers, increase affordable housing and treat and prevent trauma-related disorders. The definition of homelessness is part of the government’s problem in approaching the issue. In a one-day tally performed in January 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counted 610,042 homeless people in the US, including 130,515 children. The estimate is vastly lower than Department of Education data, which includes homeless families staying in motels or with friends or family. Non-profit First Focus Campaign for Children has introduced a bill in Congress to expand HUD’s definition, but it does not propose new spending for homeless children.
Ugandan pastor Umar Mulinde, a Christian convert from Islam, said growing up, he constantly heard “Jews are the most hated people by God.”He had no relationship with Jews, and “did not even know where Israel was on a map,” but he was taught to hate it. Muslim hate is mainly religiously based and when he became a Christian, all of a sudden the preachers were “talking about love, and a lot about Israel,” Mulinde said, in an interview in his most recent visit for treatment after an acid attack threatened his life and severely damaged his face. “It is part of the Islamic mind, and the Western mind refuses to accept the reality of Islamic ideology,” he said. On December 24, 2011, Muslims in Uganda threw acid on him and severely burned his face, neck and back. He was transported to Sheba Medical Center for treatment with the help of Israeli friends, and has been returning for treatment. At the hospital, Mulinde has met Arab patients from countries that are enemies of Israel. Israeli Arab hospital workers, after discovering his name was Umar – an Islamic name – approach him talking bad about the country. However, he said, they soon realize that he is not going to have any of it, and they stop their comments. Asked if he thought about changing his name, he responded no, “but maybe I should add a third Jewish name!” “After my conversion my perspective changed completely – I changed my heart.” Only about 12 percent of Ugandans are Muslims, but they are radical, he said, pointing out that Muslim clerics from Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and even Pakistan radicalized Muslims in his country. The foreign clerics are busy spreading their interpretation of Islam throughout Uganda, using dawa – institutions of social welfare services and religious education. In the 1960s and ‘70s the Muslim community was much more moderate, but in the 1990s they started to become radicalized, he said. Mulinde, 40, was born a Muslim and is now the head of the Gospel Life Church International in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. He is married and has seven children. Since he converted to Christianity in 1993, his life changed. His family disowned him, saying he was dead, and they and other Muslims tried to kill him. He gave his bodyguards the day off, thinking there would be no attack on Christmas Eve. “They [the Ugandan state] know where the attackers are,” the pastor said, adding that they are in the country and being protected by corrupt leaders who have been paid off by the Muslim community. “When someone leaves Islam,” Muslims must kill him “in the service of Islam,” he said One who kills an apostate “gets honors” and will go “directly to heaven,” he said.
Egyptian journalist Sara Khorshid describes her detention in Egypt's capital and wonders what it says about the countrySara Khorshid and her younger sister were in a café near downtown Cairo last week discussing the political situation in Egypt with a French journalist when a woman at a nearby table stood up, grabbed her jacket off the back of a chair, and stormed out. “You’re ruining the country!” the woman yelled at Khorshid before barging out the door. Khorshid, a 33-year-old journalist who writes for the Huffington Post and who took part in protests against former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was taken aback by the woman’s outburst but not completely surprised. Emotions have run high in Egypt since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi after mass protests in 2013 and installed a government that banned his Muslim Brotherhood organisation and launched a widespread crackdown on political dissidents. “People are on edge,” Khorshid told the Middle East Eye. “It’s got to the point where discussing politics in public or criticising the government is seen as distasteful, irresponsible even.” When Khorshid, who is visibly pregnant, left the café half an hour later a plain-clothed man holding a walkie-talkie confronted her. “Give me your ID,” he demanded. Over a nearly two-hour interrogation he asked her: "What do you do for a living? Where did you study? How do you know him?" pointing to the French journalist Alain Gresh, editor of the French newspaper Le Monde diplomatique. “My apologies,” the officer later said, abruptly giving Khorshid back her ID. “You’re free to go now.” Khorshid was overwhelmed and, initially, chose not to talk to the media but has recently opened up, recounting the ordeal in a New York Times op-ed. “What shocked me was not that I was held by the police; it’s the fact that a fellow Egyptian, a woman I’ve never met and who I had nothing to do with, felt the need to denounce me simply for discussing politics,” said Khorshid. “Sadly this is the new norm in Egypt; people doubting others and suspecting each other.” In recent weeks, a number of similar incidents - citizens turning other citizens into the authorities - have occurred. In early November Egyptian activist, Abdel Rahman Zaidan, watched as a middle-aged woman boarded a bus in Cairo and started loudly denouncing Egypt’s president, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. When a fellow passenger joined the woman in criticising the president she hopped off and turned him in, telling police he was a “Muslim Brotherhood terrorist.” When newspapers last week reported that an Egyptian undergraduate had been arrested outside Cairo University for possessing a copy of George Orwell’s book Nineteen 1984, activists seized upon the story, likening Egypt’s return to strongman rule to the book’s plot. Khorshid s distrust has been whipped up by stories run in state-owned media about Egypt falling prey to terrorism and foreign plots. “The media says we are at war with terrorists, that no one should criticize the government because this is not a priority now; we should back the government and stay silent about anything that we don’t like; empower them in their fight against terror rather than doubt their capabilities,” said Khorshid. “I haven’t decided yet," said Khorshid, when asked if she was worried about discussing politics in public in future. "I’m still perplexed over what happened. In normal countries, I assume people get arrested when they break a law. Here you can always be at the risk of getting arrested for no reason." - See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-where-caf-chatter-can-get-you-arrested-58654973#sthash.jrRgH6nm.dpuf
shiapost.comThe ISIL Takfiri terrorist group has killed five members of an Iraqi family who refused to surrender their daughter to a militant for the so-called Jihad marriage. The family, including mother, father and three children, were executed by the militant group in a “horrific crime,” according to the statement announced by Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry. The tragedy occurred when the family refused to marry off the 14-year-old girl to the “criminal Jamal Saddam, known as Abu Abdallah.” After the massacre, the group kidnapped the girl and took her to an undisclosed place.The ISIL terrorists currently control large areas of Iraq and Syria. Recently, several gruesome videos were released, purportedly showing members of the Takfiri ISIL group brutally killing Shia Muslims in drive-by shootings in Iraq. The militants have been carrying out horrific acts of violence, including public decapitations, against Iraqi communities such as Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.
Newly-elected Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has always been perceived as close to the United States, partially because of his academic education and subsequent positions in American universities. Yet his first State visit abroad in October 2014 was to China, where he spent four days and was personally welcomed by President Xi Jinping at the airport, an honour reserved for prominent personalities. Despite sustained growth over the past decade, Afghanistan’s economy remains one of the world’s poorest. GDP per capita stands at less than $700, the lowest in Asia. Poor security and massive corruption — according to Transparency International, it was the world’s most corrupt country in 2013, together with Somalia and North Korea — have contributed to the economic woes and prevented foreign investors from engaging with Afghanistan’s basic needs and massive resources, particularly in the mining industry. China has been one of the major investors in Afghanistan and in 2007 history was made when Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper Corporation (JCCL) agreed on the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history to date –$4.4 billion, spent on the acquisition of a massive copper deposit at Aynak, not far from Kabul. Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has also invested in oil (2011), while MCC has been busy in the railway sector, where Afghanistan is still lagging behind. At the moment there are no passenger services in the country. But because of adverse security conditions, all these investments have brought about very few results. Afghanistan was once called “the graveyard of empires” and has certainly created momentous problems to Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and more recently the US. Will China encounter a similar fate? This is rather unlikely, if considering the pragmatic approach which characterises both sides – Afghanistan and China. First, there is the issue of aid. Kabul is searching for skilled workers and cash, and China can offer both. During Ghani’s visit, China promised 330 million dollars in aid for three years, and professional training for 3,000 Afghans. This might be beneficial to Kabul and Beijing alike; $330 million is trivial compared to China’s overall availability of capital and resources, yet it could pave the way to further collaboration. Then there is the issue of investment. China can invest much more than what it has already done in Afghanistan. Beijing recently launched a massive Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has an initial capital of $50 billion and is already supported by twenty other Asian countries. Afghanistan is notoriously backward in the infrastructure sector and China could of course take advantage of the opportunity. Of course, Ghani’s visit has been extremely important not only because of economic and commercial issues. Security is the elephant in the room. China needs a stable and co-operative Afghanistan in order to keep control of Islamist militants who operate in the restive Uighur (Xinjiang) province. Areas such as the remote Wakhan Corridor (at the border between Afghanistan and China) and the Northern region of neighbouring Pakistan are often suspected to be hosting extremists and fundamentalist groups. Co-operation is thus essential, particularly after the withdrawal of the US-led forces and in the light of China’s key role in Pakistan’s economy. A stable and prosperous Central Asia is essential to Beijing’s policy towards its internal regions, which are home to both fundamentalist and separatist groups; Afghanistan is an important part of this equation, which could ideally include it within China’s grand design of the “New Economic Silk Road.” Will Kabul be on the route of a new China-driven Economic Silk Road? Or is China taking too many risks? To be sure, the new “partnership” between China and Afghanistan is premised on pragmatic foundations. China is not Afghanistan’s new “best friend,” to put it simply, China has cash availability and the potential to develop Afghanistan’s infrastructure; while on the other hand, Afghanistan offers opportunities in terms of security and investment. If China fails to deliver, Kabul can still knock on other doors; if poor security jeopardises Chinese investment, Beijing can pursue stronger links with other countries within its vast investment portfolio.www.internationalpolicydigest.org
By Saima Afzal Broadly speaking security in any objective sense means; ‘the absence of threat to acquired national values’ and in subjective sense it means; ‘the absence of fear that these values will be attacked’. So, security means the protection of core national values. The core national values encompass territorial integrity, foreign policy, economic growth and preservation of political, economic and cultural identity. A state must be free to choose both its friends and enemies. In the present scenario, Pakistan faces internal and external challenges to its national security. Internally, Pakistan is facing enormous challenges in the shape of terrorism, sectarian violence, fragile economy, corruption, weak law and order situation, corruption, energy crisis, radicalization and so on. To counter terrorism and militancy from here, Pakistan’s army has launched Operation Zarb-i-Azb against the militants since June 15, 2014. The nuisance is present in one form or other which needs to be dealt with iron hands in order to root out it from Pakistan’s soil and to improve our internal security. Externally, Pakistan is having security challenges from regional, sub-regional entities and even across regional players i.e. India, Afghanistan, Iran, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the US. The turning point in the internal and external security threat was propelled by the event of 9/11, in which Pakistan was asked either to be ‘us’ or with ‘the terrorists’ and thus Pakistan became an ally of the US in her war against terrorism. This major shift in our foreign policy made friends opponents and turns the table on Pakistan. Now Pakistan is a security deficit state. And now as the US is planning to partially withdraw its forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 which is biggest challenge for Pakistan’s security because the US’s presence in Afghanistan is interconnected with the stability and national security of Pakistan. Furthermore, India, a neighboring country with whom we are always in a state of war and enduring rivalry since the inception of Pakistan as its inception was not accepted by them whole heartedly. The reason of this enduring rivalry is also seeded in the unresolved issue of Kashmir which is the mother of all problems. Similarly the asymmetry in power capabilities, the Indian hegemonic designs and the persisting sense of insecurity also add fuel to fire and in making the relation cool and dry and the irresolution of different issues between these two. India has established its consulate in Jalalabad, Kandharand Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat in Afghanistan near the western border of Pakistan. It is also claimed that these consulates are involved in subversive activities in the province of Baluchistan and is a constant source of destabilizing Pakistan. It is also claimed that Indian intelligence agency ‘RAW’, involved in supplying weapons to Baluchistan Liberation Army against Pakistan. The Indo-US Civil Nuclear deal is also a security challenge to Pakistan because it has led towards the arms race in the region and even Indian has declared as de-facto nuclear weapon state by giving a special status in the NPT. India’s bed for permanent seat in United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is also supported by the US and all the major power of today. This will claim India a dominant power in South Asia. The Indian recent shelling on Line of Control is a clear-cut violation of working boundary and it clearly indicates that India want to linger on Kashmir issue and want to create disturbance in upcoming election in Kashmir in November-December. Hence, to counter India is a real challenge for Pakistan. On the western side Afghanistan is situated which is considered as a gateway to South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East. Pakistan enjoyed cordial and friendly relationship with Afghanistan twice since the inception of Pakistan, once during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and second during the reign of Taliban in Kabul, otherwise there is always remained hostility from Afghanistan’s side; even the Durand Line was not accepted by our afghan brothers. Furthermore, there is always a blame game of intervention and inference in Afghanistan from both sides across the border. However, after the newly elected governments in Afghanistan expectations of smooth and friendly relations are there and chances are there that the security environment across the border will improve in the future. Moreover, Iran is an immediate neighbor of Pakistan with a majority Shia population. It also involved in dividing our society on sectarian lines and its vivid example is Baluchistan’s capital Quetta and the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territory recently possess a security challenge to Pakistan’s integrity. To add more, the emerging threat to Pakistan’s security can be from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because it is getting hold in Iraq and Syria. Al-Qaida and ISIS are same ideologically and there can be an alliance between both organizations in near future because now militant can get refuge to this organization and there is a chance that ISIS can train and provide equipment to militants that ultimately can destabilize Pakistan. Pakistan cannot be secured until and unless it takes steps to improve smooth and friendly relations with its neighboring states. Pakistan should opt to cash its geographical location being at the juncture of South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East. Similarly, Pakistan should focus more and more to stabilize its internal security by taking counter insurgency measures to discourage further terrorism and sectarian violence in the country. Last but not the least, Pakistan should improve its friendly relations by initiating trade relations with neighbor states this will lead to more and more cooperation and in building confidence and in solving other conflictual issues among the regional.
Fear gripped Gilgit-Baltistan as graffiti supporting Islamic State (IS) ultra-extremist group which has declared a self-styled caliphate over large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, appeared in the region on Sunday. A message reading ‘Welcome to G-B ISIS’ was spray painted onto a wall in the densely populated area of Konodas in Gilgit, prompting concern among residents about the group’s presence in the picturesque tourist destination. The wall-chalking supporting the militant group which has recently beheaded a US aid worker, was removed by authorities shortly after being reported on Sunday. Earlier this year, messages supporting IS, commonly known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish, were reported in Peshawar after pamphlets were distributed in the city. Besides distribution of its literature and pamphlets in the insurgency-hit province, some IS supporters have also urged residents to join the group. A local resident claimed that a similar pro-IS message was spotted on a wall in another area near Gilgit airport on Friday but was reportedly removed. “Some people noticed it was written on the wall but nobody knew who really did it,” Essa Khan, a resident of Konodas told The Express Tribune. “As far as I know, it is not coordinated, supported by the IS. Someone inspired by their philosophy might have done that,” Khan said, referring to the message supporting the group in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). Commenting on the message, a security official said, “Such messages are aimed at fuelling panic in the area.” He added that people affiliated with certain militant groups were spreading such messages to breed fear in the community. The official said law enforcement agencies in the area were on alert after the troubling case of vandalism in Gilgit. Regardless of the motive behind the message, many in the area said the message was unsettling.
The IDPs in our conflict-ridden tribal areas have been largely forgotten and badly neglected. This became even more obvious last week as clashes broke out between police and the IDPs at a food distribution point in Bannu. Most of the IDPs in Bannu have been forced to move there because of the military operation in their home areas of North Waziristan, a territory from which around one million have been displaced since Operation Zarb-e-Azb began in June this year. Their situation since then has deteriorated and the incidents seen at the sports centre in Bannu, where trucks carrying food were looted, demonstrates the extent of their desperation. There have been previous reports that the IDPs are not receiving sufficient assistance and stand in queues for many hours to obtain meagre rations of food or other aid. Fourteen policemen and 13 IDPs were injured at Bannu when police began a baton charge to try and disperse IDPs as the situation around the food trucks became more and more unruly. The issue of the IDPs has been taken up strongly by the ANP, the chief opposition party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The party has accused both the federal government and the PTI-led provincial government of failing to do enough for displaced persons who have nowhere to turn to for help. Asfandyar Wali Khan, the head of the ANP, has stated that it was clear no one cared about the lives the IDPs were living and that their problems needed to be addressed by Imran Khan and his government. The ANP has also pointed out that this concern has not been taken up at any point during the PTI’s prolonged sit ins. It is quite obvious that the IDPs need more help. Reports from international humanitarian agencies state there is a severe shortage of funds to provide them the aid that they need. It is also especially worrying that these people remain away from their homes, sheltering in many cases in inadequate housing at camps or with host families, even as winter approaches. The bitter climate of the north in these months will add to their misery and also create more hardship for their hosts. The state in which we have allowed the IDPs to live in is a reflection on our performance as a society. More organisations need to be brought in to assist them at this time. It is after all not the fault of these men, women and children that they have been forced to vacate their homes. Most do not know when they will be able to return to them or what condition they will find them in. The problem of IDPs has continued for far too long; it is time we directed more attention towards them. - See more at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-8-284769-Forgotten-people#sthash.W9wXg66m.dpuf
The Pakistani land mafia is active in all our major cities. In Karachi it is involved in drugs, illegal weapons, kidnappings, robberies and a host of crimes. In Lahore they have their eye on empty plots, and uses every trick in the book that they can to take possession, from fake ID cards to squatting. Earlier this year, the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency issued a notification for a blanket ban on unapproved new structures in Rawal Lake’s catchment areas. Yet, the building goes on without any control. The land mafia is embedded in local political systems and these goons have also gone under the radar with minimal discussion in the press. Perhaps they needed to burn people alive for us to wake up to the terror and destruction they have wrought in the lives of the common man, as well as on the environment in many cases. The history of persecution of Christians in Pakistan is not very old. Just 15 years ago, a Christian, Ayub Masih, was the first to be convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. He was accused by a neighbour of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.” Auyb’s lawyer was able to prove before the Pakistan Supreme Court that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih was resultantly released. But this is the curx of the violence against the Christian community. Many Christians live on prime real estate, and many churches are also built on such land. The desire is to drive them out, and what better way to do this than religiously justified hate crimes. Those who support the Blasphemy laws, and goad on violence against minorities based on spurious claims of religious disrespect, are either in the pay of the land mafia, or are violently ignorant and gullible. Our national gullibility has destroyed the lives of countless Aasia Bibis, Rimshas, Shamas and Sajjads. The Christian community has been at pains to mask itself, to appear more Muslim. Many have adopted Muslim names, tried to integrate into the majority, follow Muslim customs, just so they don’t make themselves ready targets for conservative hate. All the while the Muslims have been at pains to paint big targets on the backs of these people, along with Ahmadis, Shias, Sikhs, Hindus, and whoever else is different. This has to stop, before a time comes when a mullah gives a fatwa against the white stripe in the Pakistani flag, and we end up burning it in the streets.
Opinion leaders such as actors, famous celebrities, philanthropists and sports personalities can do this much better than the government and be more effective by reaching the people at the grassroots level instead of just merely sponsoring advertisementsRecent media reports indicate that the International Health Committee (IHC) has banned Pakistani nationals from travelling abroad without possessing a polio certificate and has held Pakistan responsible for spreading this disease across the globe. This certificate would mean that the traveller has received polio drops and is therefore safe to travel. On the other hand, the government has planned to undertake all out efforts to counter the rising threat of this disease, which has tarnished the image of the whole nation. Reports indicate that the government is also planning to use injections to get the desired results. Polio is widespread in the whole country even in the large metropolitan cities of Karachi and Lahore as well as the rural tribal areas. Although another campaign has been planned to administer polio drops yet again, it has been suspended in many areas due to lack of security measures, threat of terrorist attacks and possible non-cooperation by parents. Recent reports from Karachi indicate that in some suburban areas of Landhi and other backward places, polio teams have not been allowed to enter and parents have disallowed these teams from administering polio drops to their children. The reasons could be many as they might be under threat from the terrorists to not cooperate with these teams or they might be under the influence of some extremist elements and religious clerics about how these drops contain some substance that can lead to infertility in children, linking the vaccination programme as a worldwide plot for the population control of Muslims. One can only be surprised about this myth as there seems to be no logic behind it if some rational thinking is put forward to analyse this claim. This campaign has been going on for so many decades; has anyone seen any decline in births in any underdeveloped country like Pakistan? Has there been any such report in any Muslim country where this campaign has been run for so many years without any halt? The answer is of course in the negative. However, the government is using the mass media to put forward the thoughts of many eminent religious scholars from many other Muslim countries but this illusion is deep rooted and such cursory measures are unlikely to remove this myth despite being useful to a certain extent. Such a widespread outbreak of this disease cannot be singlehandedly blamed on any federal or provincial government; rather, we are responsible for such a pathetic situation where we have become a token of disgrace all around the globe. This dire situation warrants immediate planning of all out efforts to eliminate this menace from our society. A comprehensive strategy needs to be chalked out to include non-government organisations (NGOs), religious scholars, political leaders, civil society activists, educationists and school teachers, human rights activists, security personnel, media houses, journalists and anchorpersons and local administration along with provincial and federal government officials. There should be awareness campaigns to convince parents and those who have apprehensions about this campaign. The help of doctors and medical professionals can also be taken to assure people about the non-use of any alleged ingredients so that the confidence of the people can be restored. Of course, opinion leaders such as actors, famous celebrities, philanthropists and sports personalities can do this much better than the government and be more effective by reaching the people at the grassroots level instead of just merely sponsoring advertisements. Many working groups can be formulated in this regard to reach out to the people living in far-flung areas. Such all out efforts are the need of the hour as any delay on this count will not hurt the government; it will hurt the whole state, which is already facing many uphill challenges. All political parties are engaged in holding rallies and processions, and media houses are running talk shows to discuss the recent political landscape but we hardly see any efforts by groups that are the stakeholders in this whole scenario. If all of us join together to eliminate this menace from our country then there is no reason why we cannot be successful. However, there seems to be no apparent holistic approach till now in this regard. After these all out efforts, if there are still adamant groups, use of force is justified to safeguard the national and humanitarian cause as ignorance cannot be allowed to keep the whole nation hostage any longer. Any delay in formulation of concerted efforts to incorporate all the stakeholders will be tantamount to criminal negligence. Every one of us must volunteer for this national cause that has actually rung alarm bells to give us a wakeup call. Right now nothing is more important than overcoming this socio-economic crisis as we cannot afford to falter on this front any more.
The blasphemy law has become a bane for society and there is no chance of it being amended or repealed in the foreseeable future. How many more people will the state sacrifice by tolerating frenzied mobs using religion to settle personal scores or vent their anger against a group of people they are brainwashed to hate. After the lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, everybody is talking about reforming the law, so that it is not misused against innocent people. If the handling of previous blasphemy cases is any evidence, the law should be repealed. The argument to scrap the law gains strength seeing the prolonged inaction of successive governments against the religious right promoting discrimination and intolerance. Peace groups operating in Pakistan have demanded on Friday in a joint communiqué that the government take stern action against the criminals and their accomplices who had burnt the Christian couple to death in the kin. This punishment according to the peace advocates will set a precedent while creating an environment to contemplate and debate the law. The lives of many innocent people, both from the minorities and the Muslim community, languishing in jail are at stake. It is yet to be seen how the Supreme Court handles Aasia Bibi’s case. Even if she is freed from prison, her survival will entirely depend on the security the government provides her. Aasia’s case is a litmus test for the courts and the government. Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti had sacrificed their lives to make Aasia’s case their litmus test to establish to the ignorant and bigoted sections of the populace and the government about the inhuman aspects of the blasphemy law. The killer of Salman Taseer is leading a comfortable life in jail having become a faith healer who is free to advocate and justify killings in the name of religion. Already one blasphemy accused has been killed on his instigation and another injured in jail. While the minorities are voicing concern against the injustices meted out to them, the absence of a leadership role in their ranks towards this cause is rather conspicuous. Barring Ahmedis, nearly every minority has representation in parliament, but their efforts (or lack of them) to protect their communities’ rights fail to correspond to the injustices inflicted on them. This vacuum has been conveniently exploited by the extremist groups with impunity. There is a need therefore for the minorities’ leadership to come out of their comfortable bubbe and use their influence to bring about a policy shift in the government’s stance on the minorities and other victims of the blasphemy laws through political pressure and mass mobilization.
Razia Shaikh looks up to the sky, her eyes glistening with tears and a copy of the Holy Quran in her lap, seeking divine justice for one missing daughter and another slain by vengeful relatives in the name of “honour”. The widow in her 40s wails as she shows two photos of her daughter — bright-eyed and vivacious in one, in the other cold and lifeless, shrouded in her white burial cloth. Razia is one of countless mothers to suffer the misery of “karo-kari”, murders carried out supposedly to preserve family honour or avenge some perceived slight. The Aurat Foundation, a campaign group that works to improve the lives of women in Pakistan's society, sections of which can be regarded as highly conservative and patriarchal, says more than 3,000 have been killed for “honour” since 2008. Marriage and murder Sitting on a traditional charpoy bed outside her one-room home in Sachal Shah Miani village, off the bank of the River Indus in southern Sindh province, Razia recounts her tale of woe. It began when her elder daughter Khalida went missing from the home of her in-laws in Karachi in 2010. What became of Khalida is unclear, but the in-laws blamed Razia, a widow struggling to keep her dignity despite extreme poverty. As Razia was grieving for her missing daughter, her in-laws started demanding she marry her younger daughter Shahida to another of their sons. Razia refused and three men broke into her home, shooting her second daughter in the back. They justified the murder by accusing her of adultery and have not been punished. “For the sake of Allah I appeal to the ministers, the judges and the police to get me justice,” said Razia, weeping. Government efforts to crack down on these attacks have had little success and the killings remain a particular problem in poor and rural areas of Pakistan. In the absence of material wealth, concepts of honour and preserving the family's good name are highly valued. Moreover, Pakistani law allows the relatives of a victim to “forgive” the killer in return for blood money — meaning that if the relatives themselves have arranged the killing, prosecution can be avoided. Marriages in Pakistan are usually arranged and often take place between cousins, which can add a further motive in the form of rows over dowries. Irum Awan, a female police officer, heads a special force set up in Sindh in 2008 to fight the menace. “In most cases, 'honour' is just a pretext whereas the real motive is that they don't want to give the shares in property to their sister or daughter," Awan said. Feudal ties It is not only women who suffer and not only matters of love and marriage that lead to such killings. Criminal justice in Pakistan is deeply mired in local politics, particularly in areas like Sindh where society remains largely feudal, with huge power concentrated in the hands of big hereditary landowners. And questions of “honour” can be invoked to settle other unrelated disputes. In a small village west of the town of Sukkur, Mohammad Hasan lives in hiding after being declared “kara” by the local feudal landlord. “I was declared kara after a dispute that started about land which was mine. They wanted to capture my land,” Hasan told AFP in a tiny house, located in a scruffy alley by an open sewer. The landlord sent his men to threaten Hasan, giving him the choice of surrendering his land, his only source of income, or paying 800,000 rupees to settle the dispute — or face the consequences. “My life is in danger — they have already attacked me three times,” Hasan told AFP. “I am a poor man, I am just sitting at home and hiding here and there. He is an influential man, he can do anything with me”. The abuse of women and poor men under the guise of “honour” has gone on for centuries across South Asia, but the British colonial rulers suppressed the practice. “In the British rule, they would hold responsible and round up the whole village where the karo-kari would take place, and thus the menace vanished during that time,” said Javed Alam Odho, the police chief of the Sukkur region. But now weak law enforcement and poor prosecution, often influenced by powerful people, keep the killers at large. Awan admits her frustration at the way suspects are able to work the system to avoid justice. “Some days ago we conducted, you won't believe, more than 10 raids to arrest a person who killed his wife,” she said. “But when we produced him before the honourable judge, he released him on bail." Annually, estimates suggest more than 350 murders are committed in the name of honour in Sindh. “If you look at the Sindhi newspapers, two to three incidents are reported daily and this is a routine,” said Khalid Banbhan, bureau chief of Ibrat, a prominent Sindhi-language daily. “Hardly there is a day when no report appears in the newspapers about karo-kari.” Covering the problem in rural areas is a challenging task for local journalists, who are exposed to the wrath of local feudal chieftains who are usually powerful enough to have troublemakers punished, or even killed, with few repercussions. Banbhan referred to a case in which a journalist received death threats after reporting a case of a landlord holding a village council that sentenced two women to death after declaring them “kari”.