Friday, May 22, 2015

Music Video - Ciara - I Bet

Saudi Blogger Badawi's wife: More political support needed

By Naomi Conrad 
Ensaf Haidar, the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, has been visiting Berlin as demonstrations take place calling for the release of her husband. In an interview with DW, she speaks about her solidarity with him.
When was the last time you spoke to your husband, Raif Badawi, and what did he say to you?
I spoke to Raif at the time that I arrived in Europe, in Norway. When I got there he wanted to speak to me and make sure that I was alright. That's why I called him and told him about what was happening here. About all the protests on his behalf.
How is he? Is he alright?
No. Psychologically and from a health point of view he is not doing well. Although Raif hasn't told me a lot about his situation in prison, when I hear his voice I can feel his exhaustion and pain. I have the feeling that his mood improves when I tell him about the international solidarity there is for him - that we will never give up and that he, god willing, will hopefully be released sometime soon. But of course, that is still far from clear. Sometimes his mood is more on the positive side, sometimes more negative.
Raif Badawi
Raif Badawi
What have the protests achieved so far? Do you need more political support?
Yes. There has to be more political support. The international community should not just talk about Raif being freed from prison but also about him being able to leave Saudi Arabia and being reunited with us, his family. As far as the protests are concerned, they do of course give us emotional support. I would like to thank all of those who take part in these protests and hope that they will continue until Raif has got his freedom back.
In Germany, the president of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, has refused to meet the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi in protest at mass human rights violations. Do you believe it should be German policy to take similar steps in terms of its diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia?
To be honest, I don't know about political issues, so I can't really give an answer.
If Raif were to be released, where would you both want to live?
We imagine our future to be in Canada.
How do you manage to explain their father's situation to your children?
The children know that their father is in prison. I don't constantly remind them of it. I try, as best as I can, to ease their pain.
The price that your husband and your family pay for freedom of speech is very high…
Yes, we pay a high price for it. We are separated. Raif is far away from children and the children are far away from Raif. They are growing up without him. But I have no regrets, quite the contrary. I am proud of Raif and I am also proud of his opinions. And he is also proud of himself. And my children are proud of their father. And there will be a day when all of this will all be just a memory.
Ensaf Haidar is the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. A court sentenced him to 1,000 strokes of the cane and ten years in prison over his blogs. After the first 50 strokes of the cane in January, the sentence was suspended. The verdict against Badawi had triggered international criticism of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. In June, Ensaf Haidar is to represent her husband at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, to receive the Deutche Welle Freedom of Speech Award on his behalf.
The interview was conducted by Naomi Conrad in Berlin.

Why Saudi Arabia's Yemen war is not producing victory

By Bruce Riedel

As the war in Yemen escalates after a short humanitarian truce, the stakes are getting higher for Saudi Arabia's princes, the region and Washington. The United Nations-hosted talks in Geneva next week are unlikely to get much traction.

 The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and its Arab allies resumed their bombing campaign this week after a five-day cease-fire to allow humanitarian supplies into Yemen. Saudi Arabia's 29-year-old defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has staked his and his country's future on achieving some kind of clear-cut victory in the kingdom's war in Yemen. UN talks that leave Sanaa under the control of what the Saudis claim is an illegal Iranian-backed rebel regime are clearly not a decisive victory for the royals. Bin Salman needs much more.
Instead, after weeks of air attacks on the Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies, the prince's war looks like a stalemate. The immense damage done to Yemen's weak infrastructure has created considerable bad blood between Yemenis and their rich Gulf neighbors that will poison relations for years. Yemenis always resented their rich brothers; now many will want revenge. Even worse for Riyadh, Iran is scoring a victory on its Gulf rival without any cost to Tehran and with only limited Iranian assistance to the Zaydis.
The Saudis hope they can rally enough Yemenis against the Houthis to build an army to roll back Houthi gains. Special forces are training the Yemenis. Intense battles are destroying Yemeni cities. But even if this approach gains momentum, it will only lead to a brutal civil war in Yemen much like Libya, Syria and Iraq in which al-Qaeda and its offshoots will be the main beneficiaries. 
King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud appointed his son as defense minister Jan. 23 after the son had served as chief of Salman's royal court for two years. The son had no previous military experience or military education. Less than two months after his appointment, the Saudis began Operation Decisive Storm to coerce the Houthis to restore the government of PresidentAbed Rabbo Mansour Hadi back to power. The Saudis gave Washington three hours' notice of the first airstrikes. The king's son immediately became the face of the war, appearing endlessly in the Saudi media directing operations and trying to find allies to join the campaign.
The Salmans also immediately sought experienced combat-tested ground forces from Pakistan to take the war into Yemen. The Pakistanis came away from meetings in Riyadh convinced the king and his son had "panicked" and jumped into the war without a viable strategy for achieving victory; the Pakistanis refused to join the war effort and leaked their worries to the press. The young prince was portrayed as "untested" and unprepared for the job. All this from a Pakistani leader, Nawaz Sharif, who spent years in exile in the kingdom and knows the royals better than any other outsider.
There are similar mutterings around the Gulf states now that the Saudi leadership is impulsive and rash. The Saudis have traditionally been very conservative and risk-averse. From Faisal to Abdullah, Saudi kings were cautious and careful. Now there is hushed talk of a team out of its depth with no plan for an endgame. No one wants to say openly that Riyadh is in a quagmire, but Oman's decision to opt out of the war is increasingly seen as a smart decision.
For their part, the Houthis seem determined to bait the Saudis. They have launched artillery and mortar attacks across the border at Saudi towns and cities in Asir and have mounted small ground incursions. The Houthis are pressing their offensive to take Aden in the south. They are determined to stay in power and stymie the Saudis. They have fought the Saudis before successfully and are not intimidated.
The Iranian press is scathing in its depiction of the royals, especially the young prince. Iranian leaders have labeled the Saudis as "ignorant" and "inexperienced." They have predicted that the fall of the House of Saud will follow a lost war in Yemen, no doubt a case of wishful thinking. The Saudis have been compared to both Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel as arrogant and barbarous. The Iranians seem almost gleeful.
Saudi rhetoric is also getting more extreme. While Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and the king's son were at Camp David filling in for the king, the king was meeting with ultra-conservative members of the Wahhabi clerical establishment who have proclaimed the war a holy mission. After snubbing US President Barack Obama, the king spent his time with clerics who back slavery, object to modern astronomy and regard Shiites as unbelievers.
Riyadh's obsession with Yemen comes as the Islamic State (IS) is scoring important victories to the north, in Iraq at Ramadi and in Syria at Palmyra. While the RSAF is bombing Saada and Sanaa, the caliphate is strengthening its brand. Since it has said it intends to conquer Mecca and depose the Saudi "snake," this is a clear threat to Riyadh, but one that is a secondary priority for the royal family preoccupied with the Zaydis. IS was responsible for a suicide bombing of a Shiite mosque in the kingdom's Eastern Province on May 22 and it claimed responsibility for bombing a Houthi mosque in Sanaa on May 22.
As the Sunni Arabs watch the unfolding drama in Baghdad from the sidelines, Tehran is gaining ground there. It is no accident that the Iranian defense minister, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general named Hossein Dehghan, was in Baghdad this week. Our hand-picked Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, needs urgent help. Obama can increase airstrikes, add more advisers and improve intelligence, but he has no ground troops. Dehghan does, so pro-Iranian Shiite militias with IRGC advisers are gaining stature and influence on Saudi Arabia's northern border.
For now the Saudis are learning the limits of their power. Despite spending five times more on defense than Iran and acquiring scores of modern aircraft from the United States and the United Kingdom over many decades, Riyadh looks unable to get its way in Yemen or Iraq.
Washington is deeply involved in supporting the RSAF. Without US help, the Saudis simply could not sustain the air campaign. The Saudis depend on US and British corporate support to maintain their aircraft, they need intelligence to find their targets and they need resupply to replace munitions. So Washington is dragged steadily deeper into a war it did not seek.

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Afghanistan - How the Pentagon Wasted $36 Million

No government department gets what it wants more than the Pentagon. After 9/11, it had a virtual blank check to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even now, the top civilian and military leaders are lobbying Congress for a bigger budget in 2016 and many lawmakers are all too eager to indulge them.
Too often, this unquestioned sense of entitlement and boundless resources has led to profligacy and waste in military programs; the F-35 advanced fighter jet – which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule – is one high-profile example.
Now, in a report to Congress this week, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (also known as SIGAR), John Sopko, has turned a spotlight on another instance of Pentagon bad judgment and spending run amok. It involves a fancy new 64,000 square foot headquarters at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.
Although the facility cost the taxpayers as much as $36 million, it was not needed or wanted, has never been used and may end up being torn down.
How could this happen in an agency that prides itself on fail-safe systems?
Initially, the Pentagon sought funding saying the facility was needed to handle the surge of American troops in Afghanistan in 2010, Mr. Sopko reported. Later, Major Gen. Richard Mills, who was in charge of the surge in Helmand, decided it was not required and asked to cancel the project.
But he was overruled by then-Major Gen. Peter Vangjel, who, the report concluded, believed it was not “prudent” to cancel a project for which funds had already been approved by Congress. This reflects a so-called “use it or lose it” approach to spending that makes prudent management impossible.
Unlike most SIGAR reports, this one names names. Most of the blame goes to Major General Vangjel, who was later promoted to lieutenant general, for barreling ahead with the project despite objections from field commanders and “wasting” $36 million.
The report also faults Maj. Gen. James Richardson for failing to carry out a “fulsome investigation” of the project when ordered to do so by the commander of American forces in Afghanistan and Col. Norman Allen, a legal adviser, for discouraging cooperation with Mr. Sopko’s investigation.
Although the report recommends disciplinary action against all three men, the Pentagon refused, saying their actions “do not represent misconduct warranting consideration of administrative or disciplinary action.” In letters included as part of the report, Lieutenant General Vangjel and Colonel Allen denied any wrongdoing; Major General Richardson did not respond.
Compared to the Pentagon’s annual budget of more than $500 billion, this project is a pittance. But at a time when the United States is still at war, the military is complaining about budget cutbacks and important domestic programs have been cut severely, every $1 million counts.
“This will continue to happen as long as there is no personal accountability,” Mr. Sopko told me. The sad truth is that he is probably right.

Pakistan - The Life and Death of Sabeen Mahmud

Sabeen Mahmud, a forty-year-old Pakistani activist with close-cropped hair, a loud belly laugh, and an interest in human rights, held court at the café she owned. Mahmud opened The Second Floor, a coffee shop and community space, eight years ago, and it became both a staging ground for her activism work and a popular gathering place. It was tucked next to an empty lot on a narrow street, and the moment you entered the skinny front door, you felt you were in a different world. “You’d forget you were in Pakistan,” Mahmud’s friend Sheba Najmi wrote in an e-mail. “It turned strangers into friends.” Bookshelves lined the brick walls of a cozy room, which was dotted with murals. The staircase was painted with blue skies, black crows on telephone lines, and questions such as “Mama, should I trust the government?”
That evening, Mahmud was hosting a panel discussion about the situation in Balochistan, working with several social activists from the embattled province. Balochistan is largely undeveloped and one of Pakistan’s poorest regions, but it’s also the biggest and rich in natural resources. For the last decade, it’s been home to a separatist uprising, the third the province has seen since the nineteen-sixties, and Baloch nationalists have been going missing. Although the numbers are difficult to confirm, as many as twenty-one thousand people may have disappeared. In October of 2013, Mama Qadeer, an activist in his seventies and one of the participants in Mahmud’s event, began marching from Quetta to Islamabad, a distance of five hundred and sixty miles, in order to draw attention to the victims, many of whom, Qadeer alleges, have been “killed and dumped.” His own son’s corpse was found in 2011, two years after he vanished.
But what’s happening in Balochistan is a controversial subject, and one that many Pakistanis don’t feel safe talking about. Earlier this month, Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious universities, cancelled an event called “Unsilencing Balochistan,” citing government pressure. Mahmud named her event “Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2)” and invited several of the same speakers. An online announcement asked, “What makes it dangerous for us to talk about Pakistan’s largest province at one of our most celebrated universities?” Mahmud knew she was taking a risk by holding the event and discussed the possibility of “blowback” with a friend on Facebook. But she wrote to another friend, “I just want to leave everything and join the Baloch march for the rights of their missing. What else is life for?”
The evening began with Mahmud asking the audience to maintain a polite exchange of views, even if there was strong disagreement. She then played a short documentary on Balochistan’s missing. After several panelists spoke, there was a question-and-answer session. When the event ended around 9 P.M., Mahmud left The Second Floor with her mother, Mahenaz Mahmud. They got into a white Suzuki; Mahmud drove, her mother sat in the passenger seat, and her driver sat in the back. According to a friend, Nosheen Ali, Mahmud liked to drive, often riding a motorcycle to work even though Karachi is a city where women don’t drive motorcycles. “She did what she wanted,” Zaheer Alam Kidvai, a friend who attended the event on Friday, said.
Shortly after Mahmud pulled away, as she approached the traffic signal near the Defense Central Library, armed motorcyclists surrounded the car and opened fire. Mahmud was hit twice in her chest and once in her neck. One round went through her cheek and came out the other side, striking her mother. As Mahmud slumped over, the shooters took off.
Mahmud’s mother called out to her, but there was no response. Mahmud was likely killed instantly. Bystanders helped move her body to the back seat, and her mother was rushed to a hospital. According to the Express Tribune, police officers responding to the scene described it as a “targeted” or “seemingly targeted” killing. Mahmud had been getting threatening phone calls and e-mails, and intelligence agencies reported that her name was on a hit list that they released in January.
The first time I met Mahmud, in April of 2013, she had also recently received death threats, for staging a protest of a campaign against Valentine’s Day that was being carried out by religious political parties. She described being stuck at home, fearing for her life, when the doorbell suddenly rang four times. It turned out to be just a deliveryman. We were picking at honeyed hors d’oeuvres in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi, at a conference on female leaders in Asia, and we both felt a little out of place in our gilded surroundings. As she recounted the story, she laughed. “Fear is a state of mind,” she said. “You can make it much bigger than it actually is.”
At the time, Mahmud had just put together Pakistan’s first hackathon, to address the lack of online civic resources, hosting the event with Sheba Najmi at The Second Floor. As we spoke, she told me the story of how she decided to open the café. “I wasn’t a member of any clubs growing up. I was wondering how to meet new people around shared interests, to give space to people who wouldn’t ordinarily get it otherwise,” she said. The problem was that she had no money to fund a new public space, until a London-based uncle sent $9,400 for her grandmother’s future health care. “So I told my grandmother what I was planning to do,” Mahmud later wrote, “and assured her that if she fell ill, we’d give her a triple shot of espresso that would either cure her or kill her.” With her grandmother’s blessing, she opened The Second Floor.
News of Mahmud’s death spread quickly, appearing on the Internet that same evening. A hastily organized event in her honor at the Islamabad Literature Festival on Saturday was packed with more than two hundred people. Zehra Nigah, an acclaimed Urdu poet, started by saying, “It’s hard for me to speak in the past tense about someone who I have seen as my own child.” After Nigah’s eulogy, Dr. Framji Minwalla of the Institute of Business Adminstration, told me, “I kept catching all of us switching from present to past, catching ourselves, stopping, breathing.” Mahmud’s death has already had a huge impact, Minwalla said. “It has galvanized some, others it has sent scurrying back to the shadows.” A sense of unfinished business is shared by many of her friends. “We need justice for her and for all those she was helping to un-silence,” Mahmud’s friend Nosheen Ali wrote. Mahmud’s activism, however, may have received more international attention in the past few days than during her lifetime. Her death has been reported, and her work commemorated, in the Times, NPR, CNN, and the Guardian. . The problem with these eulogies is that they often obscure the thankless tasks that kept The Second Floor open, the small acts of kindness. “They talk about what The Second Floor has done” and call for more spaces like it, her friend Zaheer Alam Kidvai said, but he thinks that the community Mahmud made is unlikely to be replicated. “Who wants to run a non-governmental organization and not make tons of money, other than Sabeen?” he said. Mahmud is being remembered for her fearlessness, but her friends say that what motivated her daily bravery was love.
This winter, Mahmud enrolled in Peggy Mason’s online neurobiology course at the University of Chicago. Mahmud visited Chicago in February and asked to meet Mason to learn more about her research on empathy. Mahmud was intrigued by the idea that we have a biological urge toward caring. “It fit with her politics,” Mason said. “My work shows we are naturally inclined to help each other.”
It’s a hopeful message and one that was at the root of all Mahmud’s efforts. Her close friend Nosheen Ali wrote, “Sabeen defied categorization. Arts patron and N.G.O, worker are so bland. She was a dil phaink”—an open-hearted person. “She was a heartist like that.”

Sabeen Mahmud - Fear and resignation grip Pakistan


The Pakistani army has endangered many political activists by equating criticism with endorsement of anti-state elements

On April 25, prominent Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead minutes after hosting a panel discussion on Balochistan, one of Pakistan’s poorest provinces. Balochistan hosts a separatist insurgency led by Baloch nationalists, who are suspected of conspiring with neighboring India to destabilize and sabotage the country’s economic progress.
The event, held at Mahmud’s coffee shop in Karachi, highlighted human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by the Pakistani army. It was originally scheduled to take place at a university in Lahore but was canceled at the request of local officials. When the tragic news of her death came, Pakistani journalists and activists speculated that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s powerful spy agency, must have been behind the killing. Some columnists even made subtle accusations.
Despite rampant speculation about Mahmud’s killers, evidence implicating the ISI remains scarce. And the question of whether the ISI was involved in her murder appears irrelevant at this point. By equating criticism of human rights abuses with tacit endorsement of anti-state elements, the agency has already endangered the lives of many critical activists. Pakistanis should instead be more concerned about the reasons their lives are in peril.
To be sure, this is not the first time the ISI has been implicated in a violent act of repression. In 2011 journalist Saleem Shehzad was murdered after breaking a story on an Al-Qaeda cell in the Pakistani army. A local inquiry recently concluded that there are no known perpetrators, but “U.S. officials had reliable evidence that showed the ISI was responsible for Shehzad’s murder,” according to the New York–based Committee to Protect Journalists.
In April 2014 prominent news anchor Hamid Mir was shot and wounded in Karachi days after he reported that the army was committing genocide in Balochistan. He blamed the ISI for attempted assassination during an appearance before a judicial commission. 

A culture-neutral Pakistan

Mahmud’s name was already on the hit list of many extremist outfits. But none of them have claimed responsibility for her killing. However, the eulogies that permeated TV screens after her death were made vacuous by the fact that none mentioned the event she hosted minutes before her murder. In fact, Pakistan’s typically sensationalist media showed remarkable restraint by referring to the event as a seminar, proving how any discussion on Balochistan has become taboo.
Pakistan confers unique privileges on its military. First, Pakistan is an Islamic republic, making the interplay between state and religion an inescapable reality. The army uses Islam, the only common denominator in this culturally diverse country, to propel a nationalistic ideology that is key to its vision of progress and supposed national security interests. As a result, it has become a self-appointed guardian of the Islamic faith.
This is why any criticism of state or military is considered synonymous with insulting Islam. This makes it difficult to have a meaningful debate about military policy without being labeled an unpatriotic secular — a highly loaded term that can land critics in great danger.
Second, the military sees Pakistan’s salvation in economic liberalism and the emergence of a vibrant entrepreneurial class. As Pakistani academic Ayesha Siddiqa points out, the military considers economic prosperity the sole indicator of modernity. However, with its ethnic, historic, linguistic and sectarian demarcations, Pakistan is resistant to the culture-neutral prerequisites for modern commerce. Demands for the respect of ethnic diversity and the rights of minority groups are seen as tribal agendas instigated by Pakistan’s archfoe, India.
In Pakistan, even the mildest criticism of the army and the state’s disastrous experiments with nationalism and terrorism could provoke the lethal ire of unrecognizable assailants. 
The impaling of cultural and political diversity in the name of national security interests is being widely practiced in Balochistan. Human rights violations in the province come in the form of abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings. Moreover, since most of soldiers are from the relatively prosperous and politically dominant Punjabprovince, the military presence in Balochistan is seen as a full-blown Punjabi occupation.
Despite these criticisms, the army has evaded accountability, shifting emphasis from its actions to the allegedcollusion between Balochi separatists and the Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW. This has rendered Balochistan a battleground in a proxy war between the two countries, so whatever happens there is either denied or is an unspeakable necessity of war.
The army insists that in the skewed paradigms of covert wars, national security takes precedence over democratic principles. And critics who cry foul over reports of human rights violations are ignorant of the country’s invisible challenges and the steps needed to ensure the sovereignty and integrity of the republic and its ideology.
This narrative lumps together liberals into the convenient but unrepresentative category of anti-state elements or unpatriotic seculars. The reckless misrepresentation and deliberate misinformation about activists’ concerns and their agendas provoke religious and nationalist foot soldiers who are funded and nurtured by the army to providestrategic depth against India.
As the region’s geopolitical landscape changed after 9/11, many of these groups splintered away from state-directed operations to pursue the violent imposition of their own interests within Pakistan’s borders. The cumulative outcome amounts to incitement of violence against seculars, liberals and progressives. It is unrealistic to expect that the Pakistani army is unaware of these dynamics. The prevailing fear is that even the mildest criticism of the army and the state’s disastrous experiments with nationalism and terrorism will continue to provoke the lethal ire of these unrecognizable assailants.
In the coming months, voices will be raised, but their volume will be tempered; words will be spoken, but their language will be ambiguous. Many will lie low, fearing that the best-intentioned questions will be answered extrajudicially. Mahmud was a victim of the army’s cynical ploy. And the dim light that she saw at the end of the tunnel might be the glint of another bullet. 

Pakistan of the Ismailis

By Zaigham Khan

The past is another country, and 1906 is located at a distance of more than a century. In that eventful year, the imam of the small Ismaili Muslim community led the process of forming a political platform for South Asian Muslims at a meeting of the All-India Muhammadan Educational Conference in Dhaka. Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III suggested the name of the party – All India Muslim League – and was elected its first president. 

Seven years later, a young Mumbai based lawyer, also belonging to the Ismaili community, left the Indian National Congress and joined the party founded by his spiritual leader. We know how this charismatic lawyer turned the party into the voice of Indian Muslims and changed the course of history by founding a new state 34 years later when he was a terminally ill old man.

Sometime before Jinnah returned triumphantly to the city of his birth as the father of the new nation, some Hindu families in my village in District Muzaffargarh were facing a dilemma. Like hundreds, perhaps thousands of Hindu families in India, they had revered Ismaili imams as their spiritual mentors. Keeping with the tradition of mysticism in India, Aga Khan had never asked them to convert. But these were different times, and Aga Khan had finally ordered them to convert to Islam if they wanted to keep the connection. They found it easier to leave their religion than disobey their spiritual mentor. With the help of local Muslims, they converted to Islam in a simple ceremony held at a Sunni mosque, though they chose to embrace the Ismaili denomination. 

As a schoolgoing boy, I would meet some men from these families at the Deobandi Jamia mosque where they used to pray every Friday with other Muslims. Everyone knew that Ismails were required to say their prayers at the largest Muslim mosque in the area if a mosque of their own denomination was not available. These Ismaili families later shifted to Multan where they became part of the thriving Ismaili business community. 

Multan, the historic city they shifted to, was itself once a centre of Ismaili dawat (preaching). In fact, Ismailis had set up a Muslim state in the area more than a thousand years ago that was terminated violently in 1010 AD by Mahmud Ghaznavi, revered in our textbooks for desecrating a Hindu temple. One of the major shrines in Multan also belongs to a 13th century Ismaili saint, Pir Shams Sabzwari, visited by Muslims of all denominations. 

Going back to my own Deobandi mosque, I saw Ismailis praying there till the 1980s, the decade when the Middle East, with its heavy baggage of violent sectarian history, arrived in this part of South Asia. In 1990, a 14-year-old boy killed a crippled Shia worshipper at a Sunni mosque in Muzaffargarh considering his regular presence an abomination for the sacred place. Incidentally, the mosque was built by the Shia owners of a nearby factory. 

I went to interview the boy at the district prison. He appeared unrepentant and told me that he was inspired by speeches of a sectarian religious leader based in Jhang. A local lawyer explained to me how leaders of the sectarian organisation patronising the boy had easy access to the district administration and received half a dozen arms licences every day. 

Starting its journey as an Islamic state, Pakistan by now had become a sectarian state where Ismailis, along with Shias and non-Muslim minorities, were misfits. Takfiri fatwas, that declare individuals and rival sects to be infidels, are a very old hobby of our religious entities. Some clerics used to call Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam – the Great Infidel – as a retort to his popular title. In the case of Iqbal, clerics had gone much further with Maulvi Abu Muhammad Didar Ali, khateeb of the Wazir Khan mosque in Lahore, issuing a proper fatwa declaring Iqbal an infidel. Interestingly, in the case of His Highness Aga Khan, it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who raised the question of him not being a perfect Muslim while Iqbal defended his teachings through an article. 

For South Asian Muslims, such confrontations were more of an amusing sideshow, not something that affected their day to day lives. Unlike the Middle East where empires with rival sectarian allegiances had created much bad blood, in South Asia there was enough space for Lal Shahbaz Qalandar to turn himself into an eagle and fly unhindered and for Shah Waliullah to carry out his scholarly work. 

What changed things in Pakistan for Ismailis – and for everyone else – was the attitude of the state. Over time, the Pakistani state has assumed a sectarian character and its religious institutions have become blatantly sectarian. Take the example of the so-called International Islamic University in Islamabad. How this university employs followers of one sect and promotes teachings of that specific sect to its students has never been a secret. A recent report of an intelligence agency leaked to the media points out that the university “intentionally promotes sectarian doctrine at its campus”. And we are talking of a state-owned and run ‘premier centre of Islamic learning’ with the president of Pakistan as its chancellor. 

On the more practical side, the state has patronised militant jihadi organisations belonging to a small number of sects. Thanks to these organisations, some of whom have fallen from grace while others remain precious assets, the takfiri fatwas are no longer empty edicts; they are backed by the firepower of extremist organisations that can easily cow down state institutions and functionaries. No wonder the attack on Ismailis in Karachi was preceded by a fatwa against the whole denomination from one of the country’s largest and most influential madressahs. The head of the same madressah has also issued a fatwa against a federal minister who has been forced to explain his position like a chastised schoolboy. 

Violent extremism is only a fruit of the tree the state itself had planted. Perhaps the biggest challenge of our times is to de-sectarianise the Pakistani state and return it to the joint ownership of all Muslims denominations and followers of other faiths. The way Ismailis have maintained stoic silence over the brutality wreaked on the community says a lot about the environment of fear that surrounds them. 

Once upon a time, His Highness Aga Khan and Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave voice to the aspirations of all Muslims of South Asia. It is now our turn to speak on behalf of our Ismaili brothers and sisters. 

Pakistan - Sabeen Mahmood and the massacre of 45 Ismailis - Most shocking

It comes as a shock to hear that the murder of Sabeen Mahmood and the massacre of 45 Ismailis were two different dastardly acts that were allegedly committed by four individuals who never went to a madarasah (religious seminary) but were educated in a top business institution and privately operated engineering colleges of Karachi. Eight others of the gang - including the real mastermind - are yet to be apprehended. In case this is true, this only just goes to show that our education institutions, including the well-known liberal institutions mirrored on western style of schooling, have been infiltrated by teachers with an intolerant bent of mind. And, it is easy for them to identify students who can be moulded to participate in such undesirable activities. 

The alleged criminals were no unemployed lot; they were armed with degrees from the premier institutions. Therefore, a bad economy or unemployment cannot be attributed as a principal reason for these heinous crimes. However, the Board of Governors of all institutions of higher learning need to place filters so that such teachers are not hired. And, institutions which are meant to create a merit based tolerant society do not become a nest of such activities. Young people especially with loose family links do look up to their teachers as mentors. Thus, it is essential for parents to keep a close watch on their young children. We need to learn a lesson from the West where family ties appear to have broken down. Parents and teachers cannot and should not shirk their responsibility of teaching tolerance of opposing views and that no one other than the state has a monopoly on violence. 

Your right ends where my nose begins. And, standing up for rights of others even if we differ are laudable principles that need to be inculcated in our society. Yes, the establishment and the state indeed made mistakes in the past. And, there is not much faith in our law and order enforcement institutions. But this scenario in our country needs to change. The state and society at large need to stand up for the weak - the aged, the women, minorities and children. Only then will democracy flourish. Politicisation of police and civil administration has resulted in weakening of governance and collapse of the infrastructure of Karachi. Army (Rangers) alone cannot improve it. The political forces need to change and lend a helping hand to the state institutions for improvement. Social boycott of the corrupt and wrong doers may also be needed. So let us do it to create a better future for all. 

Pakistan's Shia Genocide - Two Shias gunned down in Peshawar

Two Shias were killed and two others injured as gunmen opened fire at their vehicle in Hayatabad area of Peshawar on Friday.
“Unidentified assailants opened fire at a vehicle in which four people were traveling in Hayatabad Phase I,” a police official told The Express Tribune.
“They belonged to the Shia Muslim community and it appears to be a sectarian attack,” the official added.
In February, heavily armed militants stormed a Shia mosque in Hayatabad killing at least 19 people in an attack claimed by the Taliban as revenge for the execution of one of their cadres.
Three attackers with grenades, Kalashnikovs and explosive suicide vests struck at the Imamia mosque at the time of the main Friday prayers.

Pakistan's educated jihadists

Several people have been arrested in connection with Pakistan's Shiite killings and the murder of activist, Mahmud. These suspects are well-educated, urban youth. DW analyzes the "modern jihadist" phenomenon in Pakistan.
Pakistani Shiite Muslims burn tyres during a protest against the suicide bombing that killed dozens of their community members in the Lakhi Dar area of Shikarpur, in Karachi, Pakistan, 30 January 2015
(Photo: EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
The militants involved in killing some 50 Ismaili Shiites and murdering human rights campaigner Sabeen Mahmud in April have been arrested and are now in custody, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan told reporters on Wednesday, May 21.
Around 50 people were killed and more than a dozen others injured on May 13 when armed men fired at a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community - a minority Shiite Muslim sub-sect - near Safoora Chowk in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. It was the worst anti-Shiite assault in Pakistan since January 30, when a suicide attack in a mosque in the southern Shikarpur district claimed 61 lives.
A month earlier, rights activist Sabeen Mahmud was also killed in Karachi by unidentified gunmen. She was on her way home in her car after organizing a seminar on the Balochistan conflict and thePakistani military's alleged atrocities in the restive province.
Pakistani authorities said that the arrested suspects confessed to various other crimes, including grenade attacks on schools and security forces and an assault on an American educator.
Screenshot Twitter
Mahmud's death has broken the silence surrounding alleged military atrocities in Balochistan
It is not clear whether these men belonged to a known Islamist group, but the security officials claim at least one of them was in contact with al Qaeda's chief, Ayman al Zawahiri.
But what is more concerning is that many of these suspects are university graduates, having studied disciplines as diverse as engineering, business and Islamic studies.
Suspects' profiles
On May 21, Qaim Ali Shah, the chief minister of the southern Sindh province, shared the suspects' details with reporters at a press conference in Karachi.
According to Shah, Tahir Hussain Minhas, who masterminded the Ismaili killings, was a trained terrorist with an expertise in bomb-making. Minhas had personally met al Qaeda's slain leader Osama bin Laden and the current chief Zawahiri on number of occasions, he said.
Saad Aziz, who confessed to murdering Mahmud, had a degree in business administration from one of Pakistan's most prestigious business schools, the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). He has been involved in terrorist activities since 2009, the chief minister said.
Another captured suspect, Mohammad Azfar Ishrat, is an engineer by profession, whereas Haafiz Nasir received a Masters degree in Islamic Studies from Karachi University. Nasir was particularly involved in motivating people for "jihad."
Urban jihadism
The jihadist activities in Pakistan are usually associated with organizations like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Most people in the West tend to believe that poor madrassah students in parts of Pakistan, particularly in the semi-governed northern tribal region near Afghanistan, are behind the ongoing militancy in the Islamic country. It is true that the Taliban and other Islamist groups with roots in the restive tribal areas do carry out violent attacks in Pakistan (the assault on Malala Yusufzai and the December 16 carnage in a Peshawar school are examples), however, the phenomenon of urban jihadism is not new in Pakistan, and is largely overlooked.
"Political Islam is very much an urban phenomenon and we can't ignore this aspect, while analyzing the growth of extremism in Pakistan," Asad Butt, a Vice Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent rights group, told DW.
"The West only focuses on the madrassah education, but what is equally important to look at is the curriculum taught in Pakistan's mainstream educational institutions, which nurtures a jihadist mindset and preaches violence," Butt added. "The growth of extremism and intolerance is not only related to poverty, otherwise we wouldn't have seen the urban-based affluent people resorting to hard-line Islamist ideologies and pan-Islamism, which talk about global jihad."
Tanveer Ahmed, a student at Karachi University, agrees with Butt's analysis: "There is no room for liberal voices at our university. The authorities don't allow dissent. A clear example of this is that a secular forum of teachers and students wanted to hold a seminar on Balochistan and Mahmud's murder at the campus earlier this month, but the authorities didn't allow it." Ahmed said the seminar organizers had to hold the talk outside the university auditorium in open air.
Identity crisis, Islam, and political Islam
Butt believes that youngsters, like Saad Aziz, suffer from an identity void which they try to fill in with an Islamist ideology.
Karachi, Pakistan
(Photo: Shamil Shams/DW)
Extremism is not restricted to Pakistan's rural and impoverished areas
"They look at the Middle East. They talk about the US policies in the world, the wars in the Muslim countries. They are actually searching for an identity," he said, adding that the Pakistani state had deliberately tried to build an "Arabic identity" for its citizens, linking their history to the Arab states and detaching them from their Indian roots to cement their regional strategic interests.
"I don't know what is taught at madrassahs, I can tell you with authority that what they teach at universities can force anyone to become a militant," Ahmed emphasized.
But there are people in Pakistan who argue that political Islam is a global phenomenon but those who are becoming radicalized in the country also get impetus from their own ruling elite's corruption and governance failures. They say that Pakistani Muslims, particularly the youth, are "overly sensitive" not only about the vulnerability of Islam globally but also about a lack of direction domestically.
"Islam is in a particularly vulnerable point of the arc in present times. Pakistani Islam experiences more elaborate anxieties, and therefore acts out more, compared to other Islams because of our national anxieties," Ali Hassan, a Pakistani writer in Karachi, told DW.
Experts say that if these "anxieties" - no sense of direction, unemployment, rampant corruption, the failing economy - are not addressed by the government, the country's youth will continue to seek answers in extremist doctrines. The state cannot defeat terrorism by force - secular education and a change of course vis-à-vis Pakistan's Islamic ideology could play a big role in reversing the tide.

Takfiri militants running terrorist network inside Pakistani Universities: Report

Arrested in connection with the Safoora Goth carnage and killing of rights activist Sabeen Mahmud, the “well-educated” criminals also have confessed to grenade attacks on schools, bomb attacks on police vans, a naval officer and a Rangers brigadier, a gun attack on an American educationist and targeted killing of police officials and Shia community in Pakistan.
This was disclosed by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah while addressing a crowded press conference at CM House on Wednesday evening. He was accompanied by Speaker of the Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani, Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro and the provincial police chief.
About the arms and ammunition recovered from the militants, the chief minister said that the police seized three Kalashnikov rifles, seven 9mm rifles, five grenades, seven laptops, explosive material and terrorism literature.
Without naming any political or banned organisation involved in the terrorism activities, the chief minister said it would be premature to identify the group involved in the heinous crimes until a joint interrogation team completed its investigation.
However, he said, in recognition of outstanding performance of the police in solving such high-profile cases, he announced a cash award of Rs50 million for the DIG of the recently set-up anti-terrorist department Arif Hanif Khan and another official Raja Omar Khattab.
He said the officials were praiseworthy in that they had also detected the criminals and their facilitators behind the Shikarpur Imambargah blast and the killing of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl leader Dr Khalid Mehmood Soomro.
The chief minister said he would recommend their names for promotion in recognition of their performance.
Mr Shah said many more disclosures were expected as investigation was yet to be completed. He said he had asked to set up a JIT comprising the Sindh police and our other personnel who also had rendered valuable services and offered sacrifices, Rangers and other agencies officials who are member of the Sindh apex committee for verification of their offences.
He asked the police chief to file a report within a week after the formation of the JIT. Although the militants had already confessed to their involvement in terrorism activities, it would be appropriate that JIT be given the task to interrogate them as the cases were important and sensitive.
In reply to a question about involvement of the Indian intelligence agency RAW in the Safoora Goth bus tragedy, Mr Shah said RAW had been active right from Balochistan till Karachi, but at this stage he could not name the agency with confidence. It would only be determined after the JIT completed its work, he added.
In reply to a question, Mr Shah said that so far he had report about the four criminals but it could be possible that many others were also involved in the cases.
He said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had congratulated him by phone over detection and arrest of the culprits and asked him to also appreciate the Sindh police.
On the occasion, the chief minister read out the names of the militants, their profiles and the crimes they confessed to have committed.
Tahir Hussain Minhas alias Sain Nazir alias Zahid, alias Naveed alias Khalil, alias Shaukat and alias Mota-matriculate, who is the mastermind of the Safoora Goth carnage, has been involved in terror activities since 1998. A trained terrorist who has expertise in making bombs and using arms such as RPG-7 and Kalashnikov.
He had personally met Osama Bin Ladin and Aiman-uz-Zawahiri of Al Qaeda on several occasions.
Saad Aziz alias Tin Tin alias John, who is the mastermind of the attack on civil society representative Sabeen Mahmud, has done BBA from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi. Taking part in terrorist activities since 2009, Aziz is a trained militant with expertise in producing different types of literature. He provided funds for terror activities in the city.
Mohammad Azfar Ishrat alias Maajid is an engineer having passed out from the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology. Involved in terrorist activities since 2011, Ishrat is a trained terrorist who has expertise in making bombs and electronic circuits used as timers in such bombs.
Haafiz Nasir alias Yasir, who completed MA in Islamic Studies from Karachi University, has been involved in terrorist activities since 2013. A trained terrorist, Nasir has expertise in brainwashing and motivating people for ‘Jihadi’ activities.
The confessions made by these terrorists include the carnage of Safoora Goth, murder of Sabeen Mahmud in Defence, firing on American educationist Debra Lobo in the Ferozabad area, bomb attack on a naval officer and suicidal attack on Brig Basit of the Rangers, grenade attack on schools and throwing pamphlets in Nazimabad and North Nazimabad, bomb blast and targeted killings on the Bohri community in the area of Arambagh, North Nazimabad, Bahadurbad Karachi and Hyderabad, bomb attacks on police vans on M.A. Jinnah Road, Arambagh, Gulberg, Gulistan-i-Jauhar, NIPA Chowrangi, North Nazimabad and North Krachi and in the targeted killing of police officials in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, North Nazimabad, North Karachi, Shah Faisal Colony and Landhi.

Over 4,000 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan granted Indian citizenship

Over the past one year, the Narendra Modi-led government has granted Indian citizenship to over 4,200 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan which is nearly four times the number of the preceding five years.
Figures at the end of April 2015 showed that the BJP government approved citizenship for 4,230 Hindus and Sikhs from the two countries who have sought refuge in India. This was in stark contrast to the 1,023 granted by the Congress-led UPA-II.
BJP had declared its aim of positioning India as a refuge for Hindus fleeing persecution anywhere in the world and the increase in these grants seem to fall in line with their aims.
In its election manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had declared India as “a natural home for persecuted Hindus” who “shall be welcome to seek refuge”.
“The numbers of those granted citizenship are miniscule as compared to the country’s population. Government has taken a call resolve the problems being faced by people of Indian origin who in anyway were staying in the country for long,” a home ministry spokesperson said.
As the home ministry steps up efforts to expedite long-term visas and citizenship to those fleeing Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Hindus from the neighbouring Islamic countries would see a sharp increase in getting Indian nationality government officials confirmed.
Almost 19,000 migrants have already been handed long-term visas after the BJP government took over in Delhi last May.
Some 11,000 persons have been granted visas, which precede citizenship, in Rajasthan, while in case of Gujarat, the figure is around 4,000, said officials familiar with the drive.
The changes in the Citizenship Act that ensure faster disposal of citizenship requests have the potential to open up the floodgates, swelling the number of those eventually allowed to be permanently based in India to around 10 lakhs by December 2016.

Pakistan - 69 Christian families searching for their youth picked by police from Youhanabad

Unfortunately Youhanabad’s tragedy still continues. Originally 69 families had contacted CLAAS for legal aid help as their loved ones were missing. CLAAS is trying its level best to get justice for all the victims who have been charged under the anti-terrorism act, public nuisance and disorder and in connection of the lynching of two Muslims.

Altogether three FIRS have been registered and several Christians have been arrested. Since CLAAS applied in court for their post arrest bail, 10 people have been released, namely Faisal Masih, Sadaqat Masih, Sunny Bhatti, Moon Panu, Shamoun Masih, Shamshad Masih, Sharafat, Irfan Masih, Neela, and Patras.

Also, on May 15, 2015 CLAAS has further applied for post-arrest bails of 18 Christians in the court of Mr. Muhammad Qasim Learned Judge Anti-Terrorism Court, Lahore which was originally fixed for May 19, 2015 for arguments and on the said date arguments not heard and next date is May 23, 2015.

All these Christians come from Youhanabad, where on 13 March two churches and their Sunday congregations, were attacked by suicide bombers, leaving 14 people dead and more than 70 injured. Many Christian have been arrested mere on suspicions. While there are rumors that the government have another list and is still looking to arrest more people who are presently on the run.

Meanwhile, the appeal of self-confessed killer Mumtaz Qadri has been granted, while innocent Aasia Bibi is still waiting for a hearing date.

Qadri has confessed to killing former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer over alleged blasphemy remarks, and has been granted leave to appeal his death sentence.

After hearing his lawyer’s arguments, the judges decided on five questions that needed to be answered – whether the governor had committed blasphemy, whether Qadri thought he had, if Qadri was motivated by religion, if Qadri confessed to the killing before the trial court then would it not attract the death sentence, and whether there were mitigating circumstances to reduce the sentence.

His appeal to be set for a date in October, Meanwhile, Aasia Bibi lodged a final successful appeal at the Supreme Court last November, but a date is yet to be fixed, but surprisingly Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal has already been fixed for hearing. Aasia Bibi has been charged under the blasphemy law and since 2010 is on death row. The Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer supported getting Aasia Bibi justice, but in January 2011 his own bodyguard, Qadri, killed him for supporting her.