Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Video Report - Were Ben Carson's comments 'victim shaming'?

GOP Candidates Criticized For Oregon Shooting Response

Republican presidential candidates have remained firmly opposed to more gun control measures in the wake of last week's tragic shooting at an Oregon community college.
Instead, most are urging a renewed focus on mental health with a caution not to react too quickly before all the facts are known — but some of them have reacted inartfully at best.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who's been surging in the polls, said Tuesday on Fox News that if he were in a situation with an active shooter, "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me."
Carson defended his comments Wednesday on CBS, saying that it appeared that the students "didn't rush the shooter," which could have changed the outcome.
"The shooter can only shoot one person at a time," Carson argued. "He cannot shoot a whole group of people. So the idea is overwhelm him so not everybody gets killed."
Current front-runner Donald Trump defended Carson against criticism for his comments. The billionaire businessman said on NBC's Meet The Press Sunday that if people were allowed to have guns in the classroom, the incident could have been stopped — a common refrain as well from the powerful National Rifle Association.
"I can make the case that if there were guns in that room other than [the shooter's], fewer people would have died. Fewer people would have been so horribly injured," Trump said.
Jeb Bush also created a firestorm last Friday when he urged caution in reaction to the shootings by saying "stuff happens."
"I had this challenge as governor," Bush said of the way government should respond after such incidents. "Look, stuff happens, there's always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something, and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."
While the former Florida governor wasn't being flippant about the tragedy that took the lives of nine people, his choice of words left him explaining what he meant — that lawmakers shouldn't react to this latest incident with more regulations, as President Obama had pleaded for in the immediate aftermath.
Wednesday at a campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa, Bush underscored that he believes that the way to stop the epidemic of mass shootings is with a renewed focus on mental health treatment and not to curtail Second Amendment rights.
"I don't think you can say taking the rights away of 99.999% of law abiding citizens would have changed the outcome. These are people who are sick, they needed help, we didn't intervene early enough and they spiraled out of control and acted on their sickness in a way that was devastating," Bush told reporters after the event. "The impulse in Washington is to try to take advantage of these situations and create broad restrictions on gun rights without having a focus on whether it would have changed the course of that particular event."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich also said that guns themselves weren't to blame, but instead an increasingly isolated society where mental illness can flourish instead of being fixed.
"The problem is, I don't think, the lack of gun laws, I think the problem is we have a society where people become increasingly isolated. They become estranged, they have no family, they don't have much community," Kasich said Tuesday on CNN. "I've been involved and invested a lot to help the issue of mental illness in Ohio. It's one of the reasons I expanded Medicaid, so the communities are strong. It's those kind of things, because if you focus on the guns, you're missing the bigger picture, which is the fact that people have been isolated, estranged, and to try to take away guns, I don't think is going to solve the problem."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said on NBC Tuesday that mental illness should be the focus going forward, and that "we need to begin to address [it] more seriously, as opposed to stigmatizing it or, in some cases, trying to put it aside, and that's a societal thing that we need to confront."
Last week in South Carolina, businesswoman Carly Fiorina urged similar caution, and said that the current laws on the books should be better enforced. The Oregon shooter appears to have purchased his weapons legally, but others, such as the shooter who killed nine African-Americans in a Charleston church this summer, should not have been able to purchase firearms.
"Before we start calling for more laws, I think we should consider why we don't enforce the laws we have," Fiorina said. She added that Obama's call for more laws and restrictions in the wake of the shooting was "premature at best" and "at worst a really unfortunate politicization of this tragedy."
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also blasted the president for trying to politicize the tragedy.
"Unfortunately that is the approach with President Obama on every issue, is that he seeks to tear us apart, he seeks to politicize it and it's worth remembering he is ideological and he's a radical," Cruz said Friday on the Mark Levin radio show. "We ought to do everything we can, for example, to be prosecuting the felons and fugitives who are trying to illegally buy guns. The Obama administration doesn't do that. Instead, they try to use these tragedies as an excuse to come after the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took a different tack than most of his competitors, writing on his website that "these shootings are a symptom of deep and serious cultural decay in our society."
"If anyone is at all serious about changing any of this, they must address the root problems, and those are cultural decay, the glorification of evil, the devaluation of human life, the breakdown of the family, and specifically the complete abdication of fathers," Jindal continued. "Meanwhile, the shallow and simple minded liberals will continue to blame pieces of hardware for the problem, and they will long for the days before firearms were invented."
All of these positions are ones in line with the Republican Party, even though they could cause problems in a general election. Support for gun rights has seen asignificant uptick in the past two decades among GOP voters, while Democrats have continued to push for stricter regulations.
On Monday, Democrat Hillary Clinton unveiled her new proposals in the wake of the Oregon tragedy, including closing the gun show loophole and allowing lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan goes even further, including requiring everyone who buys a gun to be fingerprinted and get a license and creating a national firearms registry.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who on most issues is the most progressive candidate in the Democratic field, has had a mixed record on gun control in the past. But he also said he would soon release a plan that would strengthen background checks and include mental health reforms.

Hillary Clinton announces opposition to Pacific trade pact

Democratic presidential candidateHillary Clinton said Wednesday she opposes a trade agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, putting her in sharp opposition with President Obama.
"I am not in favor of what I have learned about it," Clinton said in an interview on PBS's News Hour.
"I have said from the very beginning that we have to have a trade agreement that would create good American jobs, raise wages and advance our national security, and I still believe that is the high bar we have to meet," she said. Clinton added that she doesn't believe the agreement "is going to meet the high bar I have set."
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama hopes to make one of the defining legacies of his presidency, is sharply opposed by labor unions. White House officials, speaking on condition they not be named, said Clinton's aides alerted them about her opposition before she went public.
Clinton's move is a sharp reversal from her support for the deal as Obama's first secretary of State and is the latest step she has taken toward progressives in her party. Her remarks come as Vice President Biden weighs entering the contest.
Biden's office quickly issued a one-sentence statement as news of Clinton's opposition spread through Washington. "The Vice President supports the TPP agreement and will help pass it on the Hill," it read.
In announcing the deal this week, Obama said the agreement will eliminate or reduce foreign tariffs on each nation's products, easing trade in a zone that stretches from Canada to Chile to Australia and Japan.
For the United States, it means the elimination of what amounts to foreign taxes on some 18,000 U.S. products.
"So we are knocking down barriers that are currently preventing American businesses from selling in these countries and are preventing American workers from benefitting from those sales to the fastest-growing, most dynamic region in the world." Obama said on Tuesday.
Clinton had backed the deal, known as TPP, when she served in the Obama administration. "This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field," Clinton said during a visit to Australia in 2012.
Her critics immediately seized on the move as politically calculated.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that "Clinton's painful waffling on TPP has been a case study in political expediency and is precisely why an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t trust her.
Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for American Rising PAC, a group opposed to Clinton's candidacy, said her "ability to shift positions based on political survival is both astonishing and deeply disturbing." He said the group had tallied 45 instances of Clinton pushing the trade deal.
Progressive hailed her decision and urged Democrats on Capitol Hill to join her in bucking the president.
“If Hillary Clinton, who worked on the Trans-Pacific Partnership as secretary of State, can change her mind about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so can the small number of Democrats in Congress who have previously voiced their support," said Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director of CREDO, one of the groups working to kill the pact.

Video Report - President Obama apologizes for airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Video Report - Aid group calls for independent investigation of hospital attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Who is fighting in northern Afghanistan?

Reports have emerged that along with the Afghan Taliban, scores of Central Asian Islamists and Pakistani jihadists are fighting in northern Afghanistan. Are the militants becoming a multi-national movement?
It is true that the Taliban had to retreat from Kunduz, only days after taking over large parts of the Afghan city. But the Islamists have opened war fronts in other parts of northern Afghanistan, which have never been their strongholds. They have effectively taken the battle to the northeastern provinces of Takhar, Baghlan and Badakhshan, where the Taliban reportedly captured some areas, including one close to Fayzabad, where the German military once had a base.

The Taliban's offensive and their military prowess seems to have caught everyone by surprise, particularly President Ashraf Ghani's administration in Kabul. The Afghan government needed US air power to expel the insurgents from Kunduz, which is not only Afghanistan's fifth-largest city but also has a geo-political significance given its proximity to Central Asia.

The success of the Taliban in Kunduz - albeit ephemeral - raises questions about the Afghan troops' ability to prevent another provincial capital from falling under Taliban control.

"Kunduz is actually a very small part of a bigger story. This story is an effort by the Taliban to carve out a large sphere of influence in a geo-strategically significant region," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW.

The expert says that the Taliban have also proven their ability to seize territory across a vast swath of the northern region. "In the long term, that is just as concerning as the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz, given that until relatively recently northern Afghanistan was not a Taliban stronghold," he said.
A multi-national force?
Experts say that one of the reasons behind the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz is their acceptance of jihadists from non-Pashtun movements across the region. For the first time, the Taliban are emerging as a multi-ethnic and multi-national force by aligning with Uzbek, Uighur and even Pakistan's Punjabi Islamists.
"The battle over Kunduz symbolizes a change in the overall political strategy and subsequently the recruitment patterns of the Taliban: from a mainly Pashtun-focused composition of its ranks towards a more multi-ethnic force in order to improve their chances of controlling northern areas of Afghanistan," Siegfried O. Wolf, Director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), and a researcher at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute, told DW.
"It seems that besides Arabs, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (including Rohingya refugees from Myanmar recruited in Bangladesh), militants from Central Asia and China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are joining the Taliban in northern Afghanistan," the expert added.
Ahmad Saidi, a former Afghan diplomat in Pakistan and a security expert, confirmed the participation of ethnically diverse Islamists in the Taliban's latest offensive.
"There are fighters from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Kirgizstan, Azerbaijan and some from Arab countries in Kunduz and other northern Afghan provinces," Saidi told DW, adding that among them the Pakistani and Uzbek fighters had been the most active.
What's Pakistan's role in it?
According to media reports, some Taliban commanders fighting in northern Afghanistan were once incarcerated in Pakistan. And some of them played important roles in the Taliban regime ousted in 2001 following a US-led invasion. Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, for instance, was one of nine former Afghan Taliban cabinet ministers arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2010 as part of a US-driven crackdown on extremists.
Akhund, the Taliban's shadow governor for Kunduz, was released in 2013 by Pakistan, along with several other of the group's leaders, to facilitate peace talks with Washington and Kabul. That same year, Islamabad also released the Taliban's former foreign minister, Mullah Mohammed Hassan. Analysts say it can't be a coincidence that the two commanders freed by Pakistan were in charge of the Taliban's Kunduz mission.
"It is not clear on what terms they (Akhund and Hassan) were released and sent to Afghanistan," Arif Jamal, a US-based journalist and author of several books on Islamic terrorism and Pakistan, told DW. "However, we know that Pakistan is supporting the Islamist takeover of parts of Afghanistan and, eventually, the capital Kabul."
Jamal says there is enough evidence that the supply lines for the Taliban and other extremist groups in northern Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. "The Pakistani military is supporting different groups of the Taliban, Jamatud Dawa and 'Islamic State' in Afghanistan. The goal is to send Ghani's government packing once the US forces completely withdraw."
Islamabad denies allegations that it backs factions of the Taliban and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan, and says it wants a stable government in Kabul.
Analyst Wolf, however, does not agree with Pakistan's official stance: "This has been a recurring part of an officially orchestrated 'cat-and-mouse game' by Pakistani authorities to provoke the Afghan government and to lead astray the anti-terror engagement of the international community.
The Pakistani Taliban have been heading in remarkable numbers to northern Afghanistan, which has become a new sanctuary and area of operation for an array of militant groups."
But there is also a flipside, says Wolf. "The Taliban are taking a moderate approach towards non-Pashtuns and former combatants in northern Afghanistan to reduce the intensity of the conflict between different ethnic groups. But this could be a worrying development for Pakistani policymakers as many of the new groups in the north are known for their deeply entrenched anti-Pakistan sentiments."
Islamabad is rather interested in supporting the pro-Pakistan factions among the Afghan Taliban in order to establish a friendly Pashtun government in its neighborhood, said Wolf. "All this could lead to an escalation of the armed conflict in northern Afghanistan, making the region unmanageable for Afghanistan's National Security Forces," he added.
Is there a diplomatic solution?
Former Afghan diplomat Ahmad Saidi hopes the situation can be brought under control as long as President Ghani's administration works with neighboring countries and persuades them to stop the flow of jihadists to northern Afghanistan.
"The government should work together with the countries in the region to fight the insurgency. In order to do this, Afghan politicians need to ignore their disputes and take a stronger stance against the Taliban when they engage in talks with other countries," said Saidi, referring to political disputes among President Ghani and his chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who is also from northern Afghanistan.
But resolving the Afghan government's internal crisis is probably easier said than done. The Taliban's latest offensive in the north has dealt a major blow to the one-year-old unity government of President Ashraf Ghani, as it is yet again civilians who have borne the brunt of the escalating violence.
"The crisis of confidence in the government was already there, but the fall of Kunduz has exacerbated this, and also brought international attention to the weakness of the Afghan government," Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at global analytics firm IHS, told DW.
Also, Afghanistan's neighboring countries are not willing to help, at least not now.

#Pakistan: Muslim teachers attack, hospitalize #Christian headmaster

The Catholic headmaster of a school in Pakistan has been beaten by Islamic teachers who say that he is unfit to exercise authority over them, the Fides news service reports.
After Saddique Azam was named headmaster of a school in the village of Pernawa, some Muslims teachers complained that the post had been given to a Christian. When he rejected their calls for his resignation, three Muslim teachers assaulted him. Azzam was hospitalized; his assailants were arrested.
“Christians in Pakistan continue to suffer discrimination because of their faith,” observed Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a lawyer who works with Pakistani Christians.

Pakistan's Ahmadis: A vulnerable minority

PERSECUTION can be overt at times, subtle and insidious at others; and most people would likely agree that it is an ugly, despicable thing. However, there is one minority community in Pakistan — the Ahmadis — against whom persecution of both kinds not only exists but is celebrated as a virtue by sections of the majority.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan held a consultative meeting with members of the community on Sunday to explore the issue and perhaps, in the process, attempt to hold up a mirror to society’s unconscionable collusion in discrimination against them.
On the occasion, examples were cited from various aspects of life, including educational institutions and the workplace, where they are subjected to humiliation and harassment, as well as in the media — where hate speech against them may have even incited the murder of some members of the community.
The HRCP panelists recounted Pakistan’s legislative history whereby adherents of the minority faith were declared non-Muslim through a constitutional amendment in 1974; that was later followed by Gen Ziaul Haq making it a punishable offence for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, to refer to their call to prayer as ‘azan’ or their places of worship as ‘masjid’.
The HRCP deserves to be commended for highlighting an issue that the conscience of society has long buried. Years of institutionalised discrimination against the Ahmadi community and its persistent vilification have led to a situation where even the mass murder of its members in Lahore on May 28, 2010 failed to elicit the kind of public outrage that such carnage should have merited — and has done so in the case of similar attacks on adherents of other minority faiths.
But then, why should one be surprised at such callous indifference when the state, duty-bound to protect the fundamental rights of all its citizens, has left the community’s right to religious freedom entirely at the mercy of what the majority considers acceptable?
This carte blanche is best reflected in Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which stipulates that an Ahmadi is liable to sanctions if he “in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims”: such an open-ended law cannot promote the cause of justice.
Now that there is a realisation that religious intolerance has spawned many of the problems that Pakistan is grappling with today, there must be a resolve to eliminate it in all its forms — without exception.


Shia leader and General Secretary of Muharram Committee Peshawar Muzaffar Ali Akhunzada, while condemning Daesh’s intimidations and ruthless treatment with prisoners in Dera Ismail Khan Jail, demanded the Core Commander to consider these serious issues. Muzaffar Ali Akhunzada also demanded to suspend the Jail superintendent in DI Khan. It should be kept in mind that recently, some Shia Muslims in Dera Ismail Kahn Jail were beaten in the presence of Jail administration and it was demanded that they announce their non-affiliation with Shia religion. Later on, they were forcefully made to wear festoons and it was announced in the jail that those two people had left Shia religion and had accepted the Sunni religion.

In second incident, Shia people residing in Bannu have received threatening letters from Daesh in which they have been warned to face serious repercussions if they carry out a procession during Muharram, this year. They have been asked, in letters, to renounce and abandon Shia religion and it has also been written that processions, if carried out, will be attacked with bombs. Shia Leaders, while reacting upon both incidents, demanded strong actions against those responsible. A delegation of Shia leaders, after reviewing the situation, will soon meet the Core Commander Peshawar and IG KPK.

On the other hand, orders have been issued to install security cameras, walk-through gates and other devices at Imambargahs that have been declared sensitive. Secretary of Muharram ul Haram Committee Muzaffar Ali Akhunzada said that management is unable to install security systems however, some so-called Shia-safety organizations have promised to provide the equipment and regarding this, campaign for collecting funds was also initiated outside the country but no security arrangements have so far been taken. He demanded that details of all projects should be updated on their websites in order to stop financial mismanagement in welfare associations.

Pakistan - Female Literacy Problems In Balochistan

Muhammad Shah
It is a fact that females in our society play an important role in developing all the organizations of the state. If we briefly observe, every child acquire his/her intrinsic values from her mother as compared to father. If mother is educated, she might effectively deliver the best attitude, behavior to her child. Definitely, that attitude would be carried on by every child in his/her daily routine work when to act accurately according to situation.
Now as far as Balochistan region is concerned, the literacy rate of female has been found to be 27 percent which is very low. Government of Balochistan has not designed any specific implementing draft policy for promoting female education in the province. Balochistan Education department has collapsed to maintain the essence of female education.
Recently conducted survey of different female schools in Loralai, Killa Saif ullah, Muslim bagh, Mekhtar, Sanjavi and Duki to assess the academic environment of girls schools, has revealed that the infrastructure system has totally collapsed. As far as rural areas are concerned, No transportation facility is available in villages, roads need to be repaired which are unable to be used for any kind of vehicle for getting access to school for girls. No monthly or annual scholarships are available for the students of rural areas. It also has the least number of educational institutions, the lowest literacy rate among both males and females.
Government of Balochistan should reevaluate the educational background of Balochistan in order to increase the literacy rate of female education in terms of providing all the core benefits like establishing infrastructure; furnished classrooms, library, laboratory, provision of safe drinking water, better availability of transport for pick and drop, monthly scholarships and health facilities in terms of establishing dispensaries.

Pakistan - Aitzaz calls for criminal investigation of Nandipur scandal

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and PPP senior leader Senator Aitzaz Ahsan on Wednesday called for a criminal trial and an investigation by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of alleged corruption and irregularities in the Nandipur power project.
Speaking during debate on an adjournment motion in the Senate today, Aitzaz said that accusations against the federal government were very serious.
“This project is not a technical matter but a matter of corruption. There is no way to escape it,” he said.
The senior PPP leader said that the ‘mega-scandal’ should be thoroughly investigated.
“We have suggested that the Nandipur project be investigated by the National Accountability Bureau,” he said.
Federal minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif responding to Aitzaz Ahsan said that the ruling party is ready for any kind of probe regarding Nandipur power project.

He said that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) should not be blamed in the matter as PC-1 was prepared before it came into power. He said that it had been at least 35 percent completed by the time PML-N took over.
Asif said that PML-N neither granted contracts nor auctioned in the matter. However, he said that the plant had to be halted due to cost ineffectiveness as it ran on diesel. He said that the plant was supposed to function on furnace oil whereas the contractor mistakenly established largely on diesel.
The federal minister said that the government has now directed to build a unit of required size that functions on furnace oil. He also said that the plant had three stages of completion that should be taken into consideration. Former prime minister (PM) Shaukat Aziz and former president Pervez Musharraf worked on the project.
In the five-year tenure of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Nandipur power project was shelved, he added. Asif said that halt to the project for five years resulted in humongous increase in its manufacturing cost.
Senator Aitzaz Ahsan criticised the government for an “unsuccessful” venture that cost the country billions. He called for a probe of the controversial plant under criminal law.
Senator Mohsin Aziz said that the government spent billions over the project while not a single Mega Watt (MW) electricity was produced. He said that Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif did not come true to their promises. He said that the government could not manage the fuel cost after its extravagant inauguration.
He urged the government not to spend more funds on the project. Senator Aziz further denounced recommendations of Nandipur power plant’s audit and called for a probe instead.

Pakistan - PPP demands toothcomb review of ‘inhumane’ cybercrime bill

Taking notice of Pakistan Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) being rushed through National Assembly, Senator Sherry Rehman said on Tuesday that the PPP will not allow such a bill to go through the Senate.

Asking for a thorough review, she said, “The current version of the cybercrime bill being bulldozed through parliament by the ruling party will become a tool for silencing dissent more than its purpose of combating cyberterrorism”. Rehman said the bill carries dangerous clauses that are open to misuse. The senator noted that some sections of the bill provided blanket powers to regulatory and law enforcement authorities not just to curtail freedom of speech, but also to access private data of the individual and the people they are in contact with, as well as to confiscate private properties.

“The bill can become a vicious tool for political victimisation and undue subjugation of freedom of expression. The drafting itself leaves a lot to be desired – with open ended construction of sentences and vague wording, the bill in its current form is more a tool for personal and political vendettas than it is a cybercrime bill,” added Rehman. “A toothcomb review of the bill is imperative to eliminate and amend provisions which are grave violations of Article 19 of the UN Charter, of which Pakistan is a signatory,” said the senator.

She said that in its present form, the bill would allow LEAs to have sweeping powers to arrest by easily bypassing court permission or warrant. Rehman said the bill also allows the PTA to monitor/exercise control over information transmitted through any device, threatening privacy of citizens and placing restrictive bars on the flow of information itself. “It also overrides judicial oversight of actions taken under its loosely defined contours. How will transparency be ensured in PTA’s operation, given that it would have access to a massive database of communication and information, for example?” Rehman questioned.

In its current form, the bill not only allows for convenient seizure of data but also fails to lay out a clear procedure on how the seized data is to be used by the authorities. “The federal government will also have the discretion to share data with international agencies and other governments without any oversight, under the bill. With no laws specific to privacy and data protection in Pakistan, it is essential to draw a clear framework for data acquisition, use, and sharing.” she said.

Rehman said that the bill also allows authorities to search and seize information without any provision for warrants obtained through courts, while ‘authorized personnel’ will have over-riding powers that are not even subject to judicial oversight. “People can be wrongly implicated and subjected to punishments with nowhere to seek justice from. Is this the democracy we envision for ourselves?” she questioned. The senator said that more than apprehending criminals, this law seemed like an attempt to chip away at whatever security and freedoms the people of Pakistan are left with.

“Mass messaging or spamming is also a punishable offence in this bill, putting at risk not just civil society and political campaigning but also marketing tools employed by businesses and private sector entities,” she stated. “Authorities cannot be allowed discretionary invasion of privacy – something that can be conveniently done under this bill,” said Rehman while expressing strong reservations over certain definitions in the bill, including one under which even 10 or 13 year olds can be possible offenders, punishable under the law.
“Pakistan is a country where even legal adults at 18 do not have the literacy needed to be aware of this law, or to understand the consequences of it,” stated Rehman. “Definitional matters and nomenclature may well lead to juvenile arrests under the said bill. How then does this law justify granting the harshest of punishments to them?” she questioned. Rehman noted that certain clauses in the bill overlap with other acts like the Pakistan Telecommunication Act or the Defamation Act, which can lead to legal complexities and leave cases in a judicial overhang.

“Many sections of this law contradict those of other laws. In the process where two contradictory laws are put forth, who will decide which one applies when there is no institutional oversight? Will law abiding citizens of Pakistan be wrongfully charged with and convicted of cyberterrorism? How government lawmakers have not deliberated on nuances such as these is beyond comprehension,” added Rehman. “This bill attempts to crush too many civil liberties and provides many loopholes for just that. The people of Pakistan can never allow such an inhumane law with extreme criminal charges to be passed,” she declared.

The U.S. cannot afford to forget Afghanistan and Pakistan

By David Ignatius

Last weekend’s deadly attack on an international hospital in Afghanistan was a reminder of the terrible war that grinds on there, with Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire.
Doctors Without Borders, a globally respected group, has charged that the deaths of 22 patients and staff members at its hospital in Kunduz was a “war crime.” The United States has promised to investigate what Gen. John Campbell, the NATO commander in Kabul, says was a mistake.
The hospital bombing comes as the United States is quietly exploring some diplomatic options that could reduce the violence in Afghanistan — and perhaps even curb the danger of a nuclear Pakistan next door. As with most diplomacy in South Asia, these prospects are “iffy,” at best. But they open a window on what’s happening in a part of the world that, except for disasters such as the Kunduz incident, gets little attention these days.
The United States recognized more than four years ago that the best way out of the Afghanistan conflict would be a diplomatic settlement that involved the Taliban and its sometime sponsors in Pakistan. State Department officials have been conducting secret peace talks, on and off, since 2011. That effort hasn’t borne fruit yet, as the Taliban’s recent offensive in Kunduz shows.
But the pace of negotiations has quickened this year, thanks to an unlikely U.S. diplomatic partnership with China. A senior administration official said Monday that “we’re hopeful that there will be a willingness on the part of the Taliban to resume negotiations,” despite the intense fighting in Kunduz and elsewhere. Beijing’s involvement is a “new dynamic” and shows an instance where “U.S. interests overlap with those of China.”
The first round of talks took place in late May in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province in western China. The United States and Pakistan were observers to discussions there between Afghan government and Taliban representatives. A second round took place in early July at Murree, a Pakistani resort town near Islamabad. According to a New York Times account, “the two sides agreed to seek a peaceful end to the conflict by attending regular meetings.”
A third round was scheduled for early August in Murree. But it was torpedoed by the leak from Afghanistan that Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s supposed leader, had actually been dead for two years. After a brief interlude, Akhtar Mohammed Mansour became leader of the Taliban. U.S. officials believe he launched the recent offensive in Afghanistan to consolidate his control of the group, and they’re wary of resuming the talks until the violence ebbs.
The White House is also exploring what could be a diplomatic blockbuster: possible new limits and controls on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Such an accord might eventually open a path toward a Pakistani version of the civil nuclear deal that was launched with India in 2005.
The nuclear dialogue is especially important because it would begin to address what U.S. officials for two decades have viewed as one of the world’s most dangerous security problems. A source familiar with the talks said Pakistan has been asked to consider what are described as “brackets.” Pakistan would agree to restrict its nuclear program to weapons and delivery systems that are appropriate to its actual defense needs against India’s nuclear threat. Pakistan might agree not to deploy missiles capable of reaching beyond a certain range, for example.
In return for such an agreement, the source said, the United States might support an eventual waiver for Pakistan by the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which the United States is a member. At U.S. urging, that group agreed to exempt India from rules that banned nuclear trade with countries that evaded the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This so-called “civil nuclear agreement” allowed India partial entry into the club of nuclear powers, in exchange for its willingness to apply International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to its civilian program.
Pakistan prizes its nuclear program, so negotiations would be slow and difficult, and it’s not clear that Islamabad would be willing to accept the limitations that would be required. But the issue is being discussed quietly in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington Oct. 22. Any progress would break a stalemate that has existed since the United States detected Pakistan’s nuclear program in the mid-1980s, and especially after Pakistan exploded its first weapon in 1998.
The United States may have forgotten Afghanistan and Pakistan, but those volatile countries haven’t forgotten about the United States. The dangers are as real as ever, and so is the need for aggressive diplomacy to reduce the threat.

Hajj Stampede Tarnishes Saudis’ Image in Pakistan


For years, Saudi Arabia has had a hallowed status here, considered above question or criticism. Yet the hajj stampede near Mecca last month has taken some of the luster off the exalted image of the kingdom.
Scores of Pakistani pilgrims were killed in the disaster, and many families still do not know what happened to relatives. That has set off an unusual public outcry that prompted the Pakistani government to warn the privately run, characteristically rambunctious television networks to avoid criticizing the Saudis in news programs and talk shows.
Pakistan has long been a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which has provided generous amounts of military and other aid over the years.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has his own close ties: After his previous government was overthrown in a military coup in 1999, he went into exile there. Still, Mr. Sharif disappointed his former hosts in April when Pakistan’s Parliament voted not to send troops, aircraft and warships to Yemen, as the Saudis had asked.

Pakistan - SC maintains Mumtaz Qadri's death penalty, says he is a terrorist

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday maintained the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri — the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer — by an Anti Terrorism Court.
The Islamabad High Court's (IHC) March 9 verdict which had rejected Qadri's application against his death sentence under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) but accepted his application to void the Anti Terrorism Act's (ATA) Section 7,was overturned by the court.
Headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the bench had taken up two appeals; one moved by Advocate Mian Nazir Akhtar on behalf of Mumtaz Qadri, and another moved by the federal government against the IHC verdict.
A three-member bench of the apex court allowed the government application to re-include the terrorism charges against Qadri
The appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri for a reduction in his sentence was dismissed by the court.
Qadri still has the right to submit a mercy appeal to the president.
During the course of court proceedings on the case, Qadri's counsel argued that the accused was a straightforward man who had a justification for killing the former governor, admitting that whatever he did was in accordance with the dictates of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), because he was convinced that the victim had committed blasphemy by calling the blasphemy law “a black law”.
“We have to look into whether the deceased (Salmaan Taseer) indeedcommitted the act of blasphemy or he commented adversely on the effects of the blasphemy law,” Justice Dost Mohammad Khan had observed.
Given the prevailing constitutional and legal setup, Justice Dost Mohammad observed, can the accused be given the right to judge on his own cause and commit murder in uniform of a person who was under his protection, especially when there is no evidence of him having committed blasphemy, save a few press clippings.
These questions need to be focused upon, Justice Dost Mohammad emphasised adding that the impression he had gathered from reading the facts of the case was that the deceased governor was talking about the defects in the blasphemy law, which were sometimes misused for personal benefit.
In any democratic government, the nation has the right to criticise any law made by the parliament because it was made by representatives of the people, Justice Khosa observed, and illustrated his argument with the example of the 21st amendment.
“Will it not instil fear in the society if everybody starts taking the law in their own hands and dealing with sensitive matters such as blasphemy on their own rather than going to the courts,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had later asked.
Quoting instances such as the lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, Justice Khosa had asked whether an individual has the right to act on his own in such matters without even first ascertaining the facts.
Justice Dost Mohammad Khan also stressed the need of exercising restraint because blasphemy accusations were serious and prone to misuse. Allowing individuals to deal with such matters on their own is fraught with danger, especially in divided societies like ours, where even ulema are reluctant to offer prayers with members of other schools of thought, he observed.

Sunni Tehreek to file review petition

In a statement released today, Sunni Tehreek (ST) has decided to file a review petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) in regards to the apex court's earlier decision to uphold the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri under ATA laws.
"The death penalty awarded to Mumtaz Qadri is against Shariah and the Constitution of Pakistan," claimed the statement from ST.
The statement was issued by Naeem Raza, incharge of ST's media cell and quoted Muhammad Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, chief of ST.
Qadri, a former commando of Punjab police’s Elite Force, was sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in October 2011 for assassinating former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. Qadri said he killed Taseer over the politician's vocal opposition to blasphemy laws of the country.
He had confessed to shooting Taseer dead outside an upmarket coffee shop close to the latter's residence in Islamabad on Jan 4.
Following the sentencing, Qadri's counsels had challenged the ATC's decision through two applications the same month.
The first petition had demanded that Qadri's death sentence should be quashed and the second asked for Section 7 of the ATA to be declared void from the sentencing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#YemenCrisis - Starving civilians in Yemen wish for death to escape horrors of war

By Nawal Al-Maghafi

Civilians have been devastated by war in which the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis are accused of committing war crimes.

“They deprived me of my sons,” Khadija Al-Bayna told me. “They were our breadwinners; now I don’t know whether I should be crying in mourning or because I no longer know how we will pay for tomorrow’s meal.”
Mohammed and Ahmed died two days earlier, killed by an airstrike that hit the Al-Sham water-bottling plant, where they had been working for two years. They were minutes away from finishing their shift for the day.
The plant was located deep in the Hajjah desert province, off Yemen’s western coast. As most of the locals have been pointing out in the days since, it was the only business outlet of note for miles around.
In total, 12 families lost at least one son to the airstrike. The Al-Baynas lost two, both of who were their breadwinners and livelihood. The strike was the latest episode in a six-month air campaign by a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states who have been trying since March, with mixed results, to defeat the Houthi militiamen who seized the capital, Sanaa, more than a year ago.
From the very start, the military campaign has had an unquestionably sectarian character to it. Saudi Arabia’s stated objective has been to roll back the gains secured by Zaidi Shia Houthis in the past year and reinstate the rule of Yemen’s deposed president, Abdu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh in March as the Houthi insurgency pursued him to the port city of Aden.
As in most conflicts, civilians caught in the middle have had to bear the brunt of the cost, with thousands falling victim to indiscriminate targeting - whether from coalition airstrikes or heavy weaponry shelling by the Houthis. While estimates vary, many believe the death toll for the first six months of the coalition campaign has already surpassed the 4,500 mark.
“That’s it! Everything is gone, the business, the people,” the plant manager, Mohammed Al-Razoom, cried as he walked us around what was left of his factory in Hajjah, a desolate landscape of burnt bottles and machinery.
Speaking to Reuters, the coalition commander, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, insisted that the plant was not a bottling factory but had been used by the Houthis to make explosive devices.
When asked about Asseri’s comment, Al-Razoom picked a water bottle up and cried in dismay: “These are the weapons and missiles the Saudis are targeting?”

'There is absolutely no one helping us'

Now, a few kilometres away from the site of the strike - on the outskirts of Hajjah’s Beni Hassan district - shanty tents sprawl across the desert expanse, a makeshift Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp housing thousands of people who had fled their homes.
Most say they’re seeking a place of refuge from the violence, but, in truth, such a place no longer exists in Yemen. On the day we visited the camp, four airstrikes struck; the force of their impact lifted everyone off the ground and threw them a few feet away.
“We thought we would be safe here, but the airstrikes follow us wherever we go,” Khadija Ahmed, who had fled to the camp with her husband and four children, told MEE.
“At least at home we had food, we had our farmland, we had our goats. Here, we are starving. There is absolutely no one helping us.”
Despite the ferocity of the bombing campaign, a bigger burden on the country’s civilians has been the blockade imposed by the coalition since March. While this is officially aimed at cutting-off arms supplies to the Houthis, the blockade has had a disastrous impact on a civilian population relying on imports for 90 percent of its staple food needs.
According to the UN, Yemen is now on the brink of famine yet this continues to be one of most underfunded – and underreported - humanitarian crises in the world.
Meanwhile, the mood in Sanaa, which had been relatively calm for weeks, was soured by news of the killing of 45 soldiers from the UAE by Houthi forces near Marib, 120km to the east of the capital.
“Sanaa will pay the price tonight!” a distraught Sanaanite friend predicted when we received the news. Ominously, we heard coalition jets roaring above us moments later - a terrifying sound - especially when one knows the jets can, and will, strike at any moment.
Airstrikes by the UAE air force were predictably ferocious, striking targets in Sanaa but also in Marib and the Houthis’ stronghold, Saada. The civilian death-toll reached over 30 casualties that night alone. The cycle of violence had been the same for weeks: every time the Houthis engaged in fighting against coalition ground troops in Marib, or at the Saudi border, civilians all over Yemen braced themselves for the inevitable, seemingly indiscriminate, retaliatory airstrikes by the coalition.
Needless to say, the coalition’s repeated assurances that its air campaign has been strictly confined to high-precision targeting of military Houthi positions have been invariably greeted with a great deal of scepticism by most Yemenis.
The scepticism seems amply justified: In the past six months of fighting alone, coalition airstrikes have hit a busy marketplace, IDP camps, residential complexes, the port of Sanaa as well as the Old City (a UNESCO world heritage site) to name but a few.

Sanaa devastated by bombing campaign

The next morning, we went on a tour of civilian areas that had been hit by overnight airstrikes, including two apartment complexes and a university building in Sanaa. One of the apartment complexes was home to a Syrian family that had fled their own civil war two years earlier. “The airstrikes followed them from Syria to Sanaa; it’s Qadar (divine fate)!” exclaimed the buildings’ owner as he surveyed the heap of rubble where his building used to stand; teddy bears and charred laundry still visible among the rocks and dirt.
As we drove through Sanaa, the city was unrecognisable. The town’s famous Diplomatic Quarter was now a ghost town; unsurprising considering its location at the foot of the Faj Attan mountain, which has seen the most intensive bombings of the air campaign.
Nearby, a school was closed: it had been hit twice. The longer we drove, the more it became evident that this was the fate of most of the town’s civilian infrastructure: Dozens of schools, homes, shops, and restaurants were all hit by either coalition airstrikes or Houthi shelling. At site after site, devastation had descended everywhere. Meanwhile, the stories of the residents kept coming; an endless flow that was both compelling and overwhelming.
Reaching the Old City, we discovered it was also hit; at the time of our visit the Saudi coalition denied it was responsible for the airstrike that hit the site but only days after we left it was hit again - airstrikes killed 15 civilians from three families and left two gaping holes at the centre of what used to be an area of picturesque serenity.

Airstrikes are 'war crimes'

Human rights groups have been vocal in insisting that the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes amount to war crimes. According to the UN, more than a thousand civilians are believed to have died as a result of the strikes alone, a number which continues to rise steadily yet has, so far, generated little international attention or outrage.
Last week, the UN Human Rights chief, Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, called for an independent inquiry into violations, both by coalition and Houthi forces. He also welcomed plans announced by President Hadi, who has returned to Aden, at least briefly, to “investigate all violations”. Several international human rights organisations, however, promptly expressed doubts over whether a government in exile, one utterly dependent on political and military Saudi patronage, can be trusted to conduct an impartial inquiry.
In the meantime, the coalition’s relentless bombing campaign continues to fuel popular anger and resentment against Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Western arms exporters such as the United States and the United Kingdom. The UK, in particular, has been one of the leading arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, granting the kingdom 37 export military licenses since the beginning of its Yemeni campaign in March.
“The UK Government is quietly fuelling the Yemen conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, potentially in breach of both domestic and international laws on the sales of arms," Oxfam said in a statement earlier this month.
The legal framework governing the arms trade prohibits deals where there is a clear risk that weapons might be used to commit war crimes or human rights abuses. Human rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of potential war crimes, pointing to a pattern of airstrikes in civilian areas that included no obvious military targets.
Concerns over the effectiveness and rationale of the coaliton’s strategy extend beyond human rights considerations.
Prior to the start of the campaign, the United States’ main fight in the region was its decade-long counter-terrorism effort against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, many believe the current campaign has not only strengthened AQAP but also provided the catalyst for the emergence of an Islamic State group offshoot in Yemen.
The latter is now openly competing with AQAP by launching its own offensive against Yemen’s Zaidi Shia community, including an attack earlier this month on a Houthi mosque that killed 20 people.

Civilian desperation

“The first bomb wasn’t so bad,” Mohammed, one of the survivors, told MEE. “At first, we didn’t realise it was a suicide bomber, but as we all gathered to rescue the injured I became suspicious of a car parked outside. I screamed for everyone to run but the bomb blew up before most could do so.”
As he spoke, Mohammed picked up a ball-bearing from the ground – a macabre remnant of the suicide-bomber’s vest – holding it in his hand. “This is all Saudi Arabia and America’s doing,” he cried. “They brought this to us. We used to pray in peace and safety. Now we pray knowing we might not return home.”
According to the UN, 80 percent of Yemen’s 25 million inhabitants are today on the brink of famine. In a visit to the Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, we met Randa Ahmed, a young mother holding her two-year-old boy, Hameed.
“They tell me to eat well so I can breastfeed him. But with this crisis, my husband is stuck at home and we just cannot afford food.” That morning, her son desperately needed oxygen but, because of the blockade, the hospital had no basic supplies on its premises. Hameed made it through that day but Randa had to be sent home two days later; the hospital had been forced to close down.
Amidst the mayhem and desperation, there are sadly no indications things will improve anytime soon. The coalition forces and Hadi loyalists are currently conducting military training exercises in Marib, in preparation for a ground offensive on Sanaa. This presages dark days, possibly weeks or months, ahead for a population already facing calamitous food and medicine shortages.
As we prepared to leave her, Khadija Ahmed held her remaining three children tightly towards her and whispered, “I wish an airstrike would just kill us all - all of us - in an instant! As least I wouldn’t have to see them afraid and hungry anymore.”
As she spoke, her son suddenly looked up to the sky, a terrified look spreading across his face: the airplanes overhead had returned. 

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