Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Syrian referendum


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed a draft constitution on Tuesday, a day after it was approved in a referendum by over 89 percent of Syrians. The referendum was criticised as being a ‘sham’ as was the draft constitution but there is one significant omission in it, that of the Ba’ath Party being the “leader of the nation and society”. The draft constitution promises that the political system “is based on the principle of political pluralism, and rule is only obtained and exercised democratically through voting”. This is quite significant given Syria’s history of having a one-party rule for decades. The reason for this was that the Arab socialists were influenced by the Soviet Revolution as well as the Soviet adoption of a one-party system, despite the fact that it was circumstantial and not rooted in Marxist theory. In people’s consciousness, the Soviet system became associated with Socialism. The Arab socialists adopted it in practice.
Syria is not an ordinary country in the Arab world. It has been a resilient critic of Israel and as the saying in the Arab world goes, the Arabs cannot fight a war without Egypt and cannot make peace with Israel without Syria. Perhaps this is why the western countries see Syria as a big threat and are trying their utmost to either go for a direct intervention or arm the Syrian opposition to overthrow the Assad regime. So far, they have not been successful as far as a direct intervention is concerned due to Russia and China’s firm stand against it. Russia and China are wiser after what happened in Libya. Now the western imperialists have only one option, i.e. to arm the Syrian Free Army to the teeth.
Some say that the draft constitution is too little, too late, and that Assad’s biggest mistake was to resist reforming the system in timely fashion. Perhaps the reason for Assad’s hesitation was that whenever an autocratic regime tries its hand at reforms, the opposition’s pent up resentments take on a momentum and dynamic of their own. It is usually way more than what the ‘reformers’ bargained for. Assad might have thought that he could thwart his opponents through force but he underestimated the US-led west’s wish to roll back Arab Socialist nationalism. The provisions of these reforms are a halfway house and an attempt to offer some concessions, while consolidating the Ba’ath Party’s rule. Assad still has a lot of genuine support in Syria, something the west is not taking into account. In case of indirect foreign intervention to subvert the Assad regime, the west would push Syria into a civil war, which could explode the entire Arab world. The west must act with restraint.

Barack Obama hits Republicans over auto bailout


A pugnacious President

Barack Obama tore into Republican opponents Tuesday for fighting his efforts to save the auto industry, accusing them of selling out workers and talking "a load of you-know-what."

In a barn-storming speech to auto workers gathered in the U.S. capital, Obama accused Republicans of being on the wrong side of history and of flagrant pandering to voters.

Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have vehemently opposed the $80 billion bailout, but have struggled to reconcile their positions with Michigan voters - who go to the polls to choose a Republican candidate Tuesday.

"It's been funny to watch some of these politicians completely rewrite history now that you're back on your feet," Obama told a gathering of the United Auto Workers, a large union, quoting a 2008 article written by Romney without naming him.

"These are the folks who said if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, 'you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.' Now they're saying they were right all along."

Romney has frequently accused Obama of engineering the bailout to help his union friends, leveling charges of "crony capitalism."

In full campaign flow Obama on Tuesday hit back in the strongest worded speech on the issue to date.

"They're saying that the problem is that you, the workers, made out like bandits in all of this; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions.

"Really? Even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what."

Since the bailout, which began with a rescue by then president George W. Bush, the U.S. auto industry appears to have turned around spectacularly.

General Motors recently announced it made a record profit last year, as sales growth in the United States and China helped the Detroit firm snatch back the title of world's biggest automaker from Toyota.

Obama, in a message designed to drive home his election year calls for a fair economy and to appeal to the Democratic base, said that was thanks to sacrifices all round, which the Republicans had not acknowledged.

"They're still talking about you as if you're some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten," he said without naming names.

"Since when are hardworking men and women special interests? Since when is the idea that we look out for each other a bad thing? To borrow a line from our old friend Ted Kennedy: what is it about working men and women they find so offensive?"

US Vows to Continue War on Drugs

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the US was not losing its decades-long "war on drugs."

Napolitano defended Washington's anti-narcotics efforts Monday in Mexico City after a meeting with Mexican Interior Minister Alejandro Poire.

"With respect to, 'is the drug war a failure and are we going to change our strategy?' I would not agree with the premise that the drug war is a failure. I would say however that it is a continuing effort, to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs," said Napolitano.

Napolitano also expressed confidence that notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who escaped from prison in 2001, would be recaptured eventually.

"Let me just say, it took us ten years to find Osama Bin laden. We found him, and you know what happened there, I'm not suggesting the same thing would happen with Guzman, but I am suggesting that we are persistent, when it comes to wrong-doers and those who do harm in both our countries, so that issue continues," added Napolitano.

Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a military crackdown against the country's drug cartels.

During her visit to Mexico City, Napolitano and Poire announced the U.S. will begin flying undocumented Mexican immigrants directly back to their home states instead of leaving them at the border where they could be targeted by criminal gangs.

Napolitano's visit to Mexico was the first stop on a five-nation tour of Central and Latin America. She travels next to Guatemala, whose president, Otto Perez, has called for the legalization of narcotics as an alternative approach.

Napolitano will also travel to El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama.

Opinion: America, quit whining about gas


James Foxall

Petrol prices might have breached the $4 per gallon mark in the US, but there won't be much sympathy for the American plight in Europe. In fact, that US price of £2.52 a gallon looks highly affordable compared to the UK's current average cost of £6.22 ($9.85).

In some places here you'll pay an eye-watering £7.27 ($11.52) for a gallon of super unleaded. And prices throughout the rest of Europe are similarly high. But it is worth sparing a thought for the hard-pressed Norwegians who'll pay £7.28 ($11.54) for a gallon of the regular stuff across their country.

If the price of oil was the only factor to dictate the expense of petrol it wouldn't be such a bitter pill. But it isn't. The government decides how much we're going to pay per gallon. Surprise, surprise, it also decides that the majority of it should be diverted to their coffers. So of our £6.22 average, £3.74 ($5.92), or a bit over 60%, ends up in the Treasury's back pocket.

The government isn't the only guilty party. Fuel producers take 36% which goes some way to explaining Shell's obscene £18.1bn ($28.6bn) profits from last year.And of course unrest in the Middle East including sanctions against Syria and simmering discontent over Iran isn't helping. But every time the price of oil goes up, the British Government is quids in. Its second tax, VAT, is levied on the final cost, giving us an inescapable double whammy.

Hardly unsurprisingly, all this money grabbing has had a noticeable effect on the cars Europeans drive. People now discuss their motors in terms of miles per gallon rather than miles per hour. Owning a car that does a mere 35mpg seems so last century. And no one will be impressed unless your mpg figure starts with a six.

Would I like to be smoking about in a dirty great beast with a dipsomaniac's thirst for the hard stuff? Of course I would. But if I could afford to buy such a car, running it would be akin to having a mistress who drinks champagne rather than chardonnay.At first I felt deep resentment at being forced into a small car. But you know what? Today's small cars are big in benefits. The Volkswagen Polo I now drive is the same size as the first ever Golf. The difference is it's comfier and has more features, including a petrol gauge that moves in slow motion.

Fuel is a drug the U.S. has long since needed weaning off. Admittedly Americans have to cover greater distances than Europeans. But you don't need a glorified double bed powered by a throbbing great V8 to do that. A sensibly-sized car with a two-litre turbo will do the job just as comfortably.

And with developing nations such as China, Brazil and India demanding ever more fuel, the planet can't put up with anyone's penchant for gas guzzling monsters any more.

But if the European experience is anything to go by, the $4 gallon isn't going to alter driving habits dramatically. America needs petrol prices to double if people are to permanently park up their 15mpg pick-up trucks. Maybe then it'll elicit a bit of sympathy from over here.
James Foxall is an award-winning motoring journalist based in the UK. He was motoring editor for the News of the World between 2004 and 2011 and is a regular contributor to Auto Express, CAR, Shell's V-zine and Diesel Car among others.

Saudi police arrested 25 protesters in one week: Activists

Saudi activists say regime forces have arrested about 25 demonstrators in the Qatif region of the Eastern Province over the past week, Press TV reports.

On Tuesday, Saudi activists said the regime forces have arrested a demonstrator in Qatif, bringing the number of protesters detained over the past week to 25.

The activists said a poet and a journalist were also arrested in Qatif on Saturday over allegations that they were involved in “anti-government” activities.

All the arrested protesters have been detained without a warrant and their whereabouts are still unknown to their families, the activists said.

Since February 2011, Saudi protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in the oil-rich Eastern Province, mainly in Qatif and the town of Awamiyah, calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination.

However, the demonstrations have turned into protest rallies against the Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in Eastern Province.

Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Article 24 of the charter states that “every citizen has the right… to freely pursue a political activity [and] to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi regime “routinely represses expression critical of the government.”

Saudi authorities planning to intensify Syria unrest: Report


Saudi authorities have reportedly invited three senior Lebanese politicians to Riyadh in line with plans to intensify the unrest in Syria.

Informed sources in Syria said on Monday Saudi Arabia has reportedly invited Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party, Samir Farid Geagea, a senior member of the Lebanese March 14 alliance, and former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The Lebanese politicians will meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and security officials in Riyadh later in February to discuss the possible ways of intensifying the months-long unrest in Syria, reports say.

Saudi authorities are also seeking to provide financial support for “terrorist operations” in Syria, the sources added.

The latest report comes a couple of days after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on February 20 that “some foreign countries” are fueling the turmoil in Syria by supporting and funding “armed terrorist groups fighting against the government.”

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011, with demonstrations being held both against and in favor of President Assad.

HRW calls on Bahrain to free activists

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the release of hundreds of Bahraini pro-democracy activists arrested after last year's uprising and for all charges against them to be dropped.

'Grossly unfair military and civilian trials have been a core element in Bahrain's crackdown on pro-democracy protests,' HRW said. Cases 'against everyone convicted on politically motivated charges' should be dropped.

The New York-based group also called for the release of at least four Shi'ite protest leaders who remain in prison for expressing anti-government sentiments and demanding political reform.

According to HRW, hundreds of Bahraini activists have been tried in special military courts set up after King Hamad declared a quasi state of emergency last March as his security forces crushed a month-long uprising in Manama.

The rights group said that by October, all the special military court cases had been transferred to civilian courts.

But 'egregious violations of fair trial rights in political cases' continued in Bahrain's criminal justice system 'with serious systemic problems,' despite government pledges to reform, HRW said.

'Serious abuses included denying defendants the right to counsel and to present a defence, and failure to investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment,' it said, citing a 94-page report on judicial violations.

The report is based on 50 interviews with defendants, lawyers and observers as well as examination of court documents.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International said Bahrain's government had failed to implement human rights reforms demanded by an independent commission which investigated the crackdown.

They said the government was still 'far from delivering the human rights changes' recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

The BICI report was commissioned by the king last June after the violence left 35 people dead and triggered international pressure on the ruling Sunni dynasty.

Near daily protests have continued in Shi'ite neighbourhoods of the kingdom, with the main opposition formation, Al-Wefaq, charging that 'violations' by the authorities have been on the rise.

The story of the Afghan Jews is one of remarkable tolerance


Nushin Arbabzadah

I was at primary school in Kabul during the Soviet occupation. One day, seemingly out of the blue, a Muslim girl started a campaign of fear and slander against our only Jewish classmate. She declared that the latter came from a morally loose household and incited us to ostracise the quiet blonde girl. As far as we could see, there was nothing outwardly immoral about this exceptionally smart girl who already kept herself to herself. We asked the inciter to explain her accusation and she responded: "Her mother lets in a complete stranger, a man, into their house every Sabbath!" The understanding was that no decent Afghan woman would allow a strange man into her home, especially if she was a widow with no grownup son to protect her honour. This example of ignorance breeding cruelty took place at the honeymoon stage of the Afghan flirtation with jihad – before the mass romance with God's soldiers turned into gang rape.

Looking now at old photographs of family life, religious classrooms and bar mitzvahs, the similarities between Muslim and Jewish Afghans are striking. The rabbis' beards, turbans and gowns made them almost indistinguishable from Muslim scholars, while both were referred to by the title of mullah. The community shared with the rest of society a profound mistrust of state interference in family affairs, rejecting secular education and military service. In the 1920s, Jewish rabbis famously protested against Kabul's attempt to enlist Jewish children to state school.

Much like the rest of society, the family structure was patriarchal. Jewish women married young, were deprived of education and led domestic lives away from the public eye. When leaving home, they covered themselves just like their Muslim counterparts. Such resistance to change meant that the community remained conspicuously traditional and closely knit together, marrying only among themselves. In the later decades, when Jewish children started to attend state schools, they had no choice but to turn up to classes on Sabbath. They dealt with this problem by simply sitting down but not doing much else. But this religious tolerance was already disappearing by the time of the Soviet occupation, when I had my own first-hand experience.

But I learned later that my experience of Afghan intolerance of Jews was far from representative. From a historical perspective, the story of the Afghan Jews is a tale of remarkable tolerance. It may seem hard to believe today, but historically it was Afghanistan to which Jews turned to when escaping religious persecution in Iran and central Asia. It was in the dusty, ancient cities of Herat and Kabul, to the west and the east of Afghanistan, that they found freedom to practise their faith without getting murdered in the process. A community of leather and karakul merchants, poor people and money lenders alike, the large Jewish families mostly lived in the border city of Herat, while the families' patriarchs travelled back and forth on trading trips, moving between Iran, Afghanistan, India and central Asia on the ancient silk road.

The Jews did not engage in farming, which restricted their means of earning a living. Like many other Afghans, they survived through trade, taking lengthy and often dangerous trips across the majestic mountains on whose rocks their prayers were carved in Hebrew and sometimes even Aramaic.

Like the rest of the population, the Jews of Afghanistan were simultaneously local and transnational, rooted to the Afghan soil by birth and burial but connected to a global faith through religion. Like Afghan Hindus and Muslims, their sacred sites, too, were located in faraway, hard-to-reach places while their holy language was not the official language of the nation. Isolated and yet connected through the invisible ties of spirituality, Afghan Jews were much like the rest of Afghans, sharing with the Sunni Pashtuns in particular a belief in being descended from the biblical lost tribes. Such similarities were ultimately why a peaceful coexistence was possible between Jewish and Muslim Afghans for most of their shared history, which dates back to the medieval times.

The Afghans' isolation from the rest of the world was a blessing in disguise for the Jewish community because being cut off from global political trends meant that ordinary Afghans were untouched by the raging, European-led, antisemitism of the early 20th century. Even at the height of the Nazi influence in Kabul of the 1930s, it was Afghan nationalism rather than antisemitism that led the government to introduce economic measures that bankrupted Jewish money-lending families.

The laws affecting the Jewish community were soon removed and in the following decades Afghanistan was the only Muslim country that allowed Jewish families to immigrate without revoking their citizenship first. When Afghan Jews left the country en masse in the 1960s, their exile to New York and Tel Aviv was motivated by a search for a better life but not because of religious persecution.

Like most Afghans, the Jewish community was also polyglot, reading Hebrew and speaking the local language as well as their own Judeo-Persian dialect. Largely illiterate, the community transmitted knowledge and wisdom through oral folktales, the Kafkaesque surreal characters and narratives of which are much like other Afghan folktales. A brutal truth of the cruelty of life in Afghanistan, for example, is summed up at the end of the Jewish folktale Moses and the Ants: "When the fire rages in the wood, it burns the bad trees and the good."

Now all are burned.

Vladimir Putin outlines new foreign policy

I am convinced that global security can be achieved only together with Russia and not by trying to sideline her, weaken her geopolitical position and damage her defence capacities, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin writes in an article published this week in newspaper Moskovskie Novosti. The article, one of several written by the candidate for president over the last weeks, outlines a hardline position towards the West, the U.S.A and especially NATO.
According to Putin, the understanding of national security today “fundamentally differs” between NATO and the U.S.A on the one hand and Russia on the other.

“We will consistently root our policy in our own interests and objectives, and not resolutions dictated by others,” Putin writes. “Russia is only reckoned with when it is strong and firmly stands on its feet,” he adds.

Interestingly, Putin in the article also touches on the role of the Internet, social media and mobile telephones, saying that they “unfortunately often are used to provoke extremism, separatism, nationalism and manipulation of the public opinion and as a way to directly intervene in domestic affairs of sovereign states”.

According to several analysts, the shift of president is likely to include a shift also in foreign policy. While Dmitry Medvedev has made foreign policy a key component in his drive for domestic social and economic modernization, Putin might want it otherwise. Deputy leader of the Russian Centre for Political Technology Aleksei Makarin says to newspaper Kommersant that a new government-initiated policy paper now indicates a downplay of the stress on modernization issues in foreign policy.

“Probably, the programme of the president [Medvedev] is either put on hold or no longer considered of relevance”, Makarin says.

Are Rich People Unethical?

By Mikaela Conley

At last, an explanation for Wall Street's disgrace, Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme and other high-society crimes and misdemeanors: A new study published in the Proceedings of that National Academy of Sciences found that wealthier people were more apt to behave unethically than those who had less money.

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley analyzed a person's rank in society (measured by wealth, occupational prestige and education) and found that those who were richer were more likely to cheat, lie and break the law than those who were poorer.

"We found that it is much more prevalent for people in the higher ranks of society to see greed and self-interest … as good pursuits," said Paul Piff, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at Berkeley. "This resonates with a lot of current events these days."

In the first of two studies, researchers found that those who drove more expensive cars (an admittedly questionable indicator of economic worth) were more likely to cut off other cars and pedestrians at a busy San Francisco four-way intersection than those who drove older, less-expensive vehicles.

In other experiments, wealthier study participants were more likely to admit they would behave unethically in a variety of situations and lie during negotiations. In another, researchers found wealthier people were more likely to cheat in an online game to win a $50 prize.

Greed is a "robust" determinant of unethical behavior, according to the study.

"This has some pretty clear implications," said Piff. "Inequality is very much on Americans' minds, and the potential effects of severe inequality on individual levels of behavior are major."

Large sums of money may give people greater feelings of entitlement, causing those people to be the most averse to wealth distribution, Piff continued. Poorer people may be less likely to cheat, because they are more dependent on their community at large, he said. In other words, they don't want to rock the boat.

"People in power who are more inclined to behave unethically in the service of gains and self-interest can have great effects on society as a whole," said Piff.

And it's difficult to say whether richer people get to the top because of their unethical behavior or whether wealth causes people to become this way. "It seems like a vicious cycle," he said.

Nevertheless, Piff said these results obviously don't apply to all wealthy people. He noted that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were among the wealthiest people in the world and also the most philanthropic. He also pointed to high rates of violent crime in the poorest neighborhoods in the country that counteract the study's findings.

Piff said he hoped to further his research by figuring out ways to curb these patterns of behavior among wealthier individuals.

"What it comes down to, really, is that money creates more of a self-focus, which may account for larger feelings of entitlement," said Piff. "We hope to further study how we can curb these patterns and how that will affect our social environment."

Israeli audiences flock to Iran's Oscar-winning A Separation

When Oscar-winning Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi spoke of the importance of recognising his country's glorious and essentially peaceful culture at a time of "war, intimidation and aggression" he might have wondered if anyone in Israel was listening. At the very least, film buffs in the Jewish nation seem to have got the message, because they are turning out in large numbers to watch Farhadi's best foreign film Academy Award winner A Separation at cinemas.The film's fledgling box-office success in a country whose leaders are currently considering a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is all the more remarkable because A Separation was up against Israeli drama Footnote, a Talmudic scholar saga from film-maker Joseph Cedar. The film is being shown mostly at the seven Israeli sites owned by Lev Cinemas, whose CEO Guy Shani said all screenings were sold out on Friday and Saturday. "We are being helped a lot by the press in Israel," Shani told the Associated Press, adding that the threat of war between the two countries had helped to draw viewers.

Yair Raveh, a leading Israeli film critic who writes for the Pnai Plus entertainment magazine, said his countrymen were often surprised to note that Iranians did not seem all that different from themselves. "It's very well acted, exceptionally well written and very moving," he said of the film. "Ultimately you don't think about nuclear bombs or dictators threatening world peace. You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us."

A Separation centres on the imminent divorce of an upper-middle-class Iranian couple, one of whom wishes to emigrate due to the prevailing political conditions. Filmgoer Rina Brick, 70, said she was surprised to see that the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film did not behave very differently to those in Israel.

"Our image of how Iran works is less democratic than we see here," she said. "The judge, the police, everyone behaves as if they are in a western country." Rivka Cohen, who left Iran at age 15 and is now 78, said she was surprised to note that "everyone had a fridge and a washing machine".

Israeli officials are eyeing a strike at Iran's nuclear facilities because the country is refusing to co-operate with a UN investigation into evidence that its scientists may have worked on designing a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes and has warned its rival against mounting an attack.

Clips of Farhadi's acceptance speech were aired on Iranian state TV yesterday and the country's political leadership hailed the nation's first Oscar-winning film as a triumph over Israel, despite conservative figures close to the regime having previously criticised the film for insulting the Islamic republic. Hardliners have been concerned over the film's depiction of domestic turmoil, gender inequality and the desire of many Iranians to leave the country. In a programme broadcast in state-run television, writer Masoud Ferasati said: "The image of our society that A Separation depicts is the dirty picture westerners are wishing for."

Shia massacre in Gilgit: Media apathy and misrepresentation of Shia genocide in Pakistan

Let Us Build Pakistan

Today’s massacre of at least 20 Shia Muslimss in Gilgit brings the tally of murdered and injured Shias close to 250 since the beginning of 2012 and aside from two dedicated articles, both in the Daily Times, and both by two honourable Pashtuns, Pakistan’s “progressive”, “liberal” and “secular” media remains defeaningly silent on this topic. While Pakistan’s social media networks have been abuzz with Oscar awards, cricket matches, Maya Khan and Veena Malik, aside from the token tweet and sentence, Pakistan’s liberal media continues to ignore the ongoing Shia Genocide in Pakistan.

The PPP-led government remains both clueless and helpless to stop this ongoing genocide – while some of its elected representatives have spoken out against this but the world knows that it is not the elected Government in Pakistan that has enabled Shia Genocide – it is the military establishment. The ISI’s partnership with the nexus of interconnected extremist Deobandi-Salafi groups (TTP, Jundullah, SSP-ASWJ-LeJ, JM, LeT) responsible for this has been formalized via Difa-e-Pakistan Counci (DPC). Furthermore, alternate political groups like Imran Khan’s PTI are also complicit as evidenced by their open support for DPC.

The right-wing in the Urdu vernacular press has no qualms in sympathizing with the Jihadists responsible for such acts. However, their (mostly) pseudo-liberal counterparts in the English language segment of the media is even worse. The latter claim to be liberal and progressive – however, after the third major Shia massacre in 2012 (Khanpur 34 killed, Parachinar 49 killed, Gilgit 20 killed), aside from the two examples mentioned, they have either remained silent, uttered the token condemnation or grossly misrepresented the issue as a routine Sunni vs Shia violence.

LUBP has provided a detailed has provided detailed casualty figures for Shias in January 2012;


This data is also available at other Shia websites and facebook groups – in case our “liberal” media can take time off from self-congratulation and the England-Pakistan cricket series.

It has also provided detailed analysis on this topic. Refer to:

Intellectual dishonesty in misrepresenting Shia massacres in Pakistan

Yet Pakistan’s “liberal” media is more at ease in writing on safe issues or those that can further material advancement. The topic of Shia genocide is off limits because it exposes the role of Pakistan’s security establishment. This is where Pakistan’s “liberal” media has drawn its limits. It is excellent in token gestures, taking up “safe” causes that do not affect the interests of the military establishment. In furthering its financial interests through NGOs and heaping platitudes on each other, Pakistan’s “liberal” media is probably one of the best in the world. However, for the embattled Shia Muslims of Pakistan, they appear to be least bothered. When Pakistan’s liberal and progressive activists stay silent, misrepresent or provide brief, token protest on the Shia genocide taking place, it enables and encourages the Shia-killing Jihadists.

We can only hope that Pakistan’s influential English media writers take up this issue and present it to the rest of the world.

This is what today’s tragic massacre of Shia muslims may have looked like. This is the graphic video of a similar massacre that took place in Mastung, Balochistan just a few months ago.

Waheeda Shah: Insulting polling staff


A woman candidate from Sindh feudal family had publicly insulted the female polling officer on a petty issue demonstrating her contempt to the process of democratic elections. On the report from the Returning Officer, the Election Commission had withheld the notification of her election as MPA. At the same time, a criminal case had been registered against her as the TV camera showns the footage of the slapping on face to two ladies, including an official of the polling staff.
Waheeda Shah, the accused lady and one of the contestants was behaving in an arrogant manner while insulting the polling officer at the polling booth in Tando Mohammad Khan. The brave lady knowing that she belongs to a ruling family of Sindh forced and brought one of the masked women claiming that she was the lady with whom she had developed some ‘misunderstanding’. The lady refused to remove the mask and insisted that she had forgiven Waheeda Shah, the feudal lady contesting elections. It was presumed that the poor victim would be transferred to a remote village as punishment if she filed complaint against her. It is a case where the judiciary should take suo motu notice and punish the feudal lady for her arrogant behavior and insult to the polling officer. The election Commission and the superior courts should ensure that waheeda Shah is disqualified for her entire life so that another feudal lord should not dare to insult the polling staff in coming elections and all the candidates, including from the ruling families, should submit to the laws of the land and respect election and polling laws in letter and spirit.

Afghan children dream of musical future


Sayed Elham sits at the piano lost in Chopin as he dreams of becoming Afghanistan’s first famous concert pianist and one of the original graduates of the country’s only musical academy.

Inspired by his singer father, the 14-year-old hopeful practices for five hours each day to emulate his musical heroes: from famed 1970s Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir, to American heavy metal band System Of A Down.

“I like Chopin — because it has a lot of feeling,” he says, swinging his red school rucksack onto the floor as he takes to the ivories again to play a typical Afghan folk song filled with bittersweet emotion.

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, revived with the fall of the Taliban who banned the playing of instruments under their strict interpretation of Islamic law, has operated for two years at its current site in west Kabul.

Filled with talented youngsters from among the country’s tiny elite, it also takes children working on the streets of the capital to provide them with an education and create a lasting beacon of hope in the war-torn land.

Elham’s dreams are modest: “I want to be very kind and very good teacher… and play in a big concert.”

The school operates under the education ministry with large contributions from Britain, Germany and Denmark. Teachers from Russia and the United States encourage the city’s precocious talent.

“We had a Russian pianist here who left behind her music and within three months Elham had learned to play what usually takes three years,” said the school’s director Ahmad Sarmast, who said the country’s fledgling film industry and music scene could offer job opportunities for the most talented.

Speculation of a Taliban return amid ongoing efforts to end a decade of war have not deterred Sarmast and the young students — girls and boys alike — whose music wafts along the academy’s refurbished corridors.

The school, which also teaches the children a standard curriculum of English and sciences, encourages personal expression never allowed under Islamist rule.

All 140 students fill a room for orchestra practice, performing a “Prayer for Peace” — the brass, woodwind, voice, strings, percussion and traditional Afghan music sections chiming together with a harmonious message of hope.

Sarmast, who trained in Moscow and spent time in Australia before returning to Afghanistan in 2008, is ignoring talk of a Taliban return and working on two ambitious projects.

He wants to take the youth orchestra to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Kennedy Center next year, and to build a symphony orchestra from scratch to international standards.

“It’s going to send a clear message to the international community that there have been a lot of changes and hopes for this nation,” said Sarmast.

“Hope has not died in Afghanistan and the inspiration is there, dedication is there and people are working. This is a positive change in the 10 years.”

One of the institute’s success stories is 14-year-old Fakria, who like many Afghans goes by just one name and is among the one third of students at the school who are girls — a quota set to redress the plight of Afghan women who still struggle for an education in the largely conservative Muslim nation.

Discovered living in a shelter for street children two years ago, she left behind a life selling chewing gum and polishing boots for a new home and education, and the chance to learn her favourite instrument: the cello.

Now the schools gives her a stipend of $25 per month for her family, along with a full scholarship for clothes, food, and her beloved instrument.

Staring intensely at the score, she exhibits a tough beauty born from her difficult start in life as she plays.

“I love the cello and I hope that I become a really successful player and work for my country,” she said.

“If I do well I can go to other countries and play something and learn something and share some music.”

Rights Group: Bahrain Trials of Protesters Flawed

An international human rights organization has criticized Bahrain for using its justice system to crack down on dissent, saying that trials of opposition supporters during the uprising in the Gulf Kingdom were flawed.

Bahrain has put on trial hundreds of protesters, opposition figures and medics who treated injured demonstrators for taking part in the Shiite-led campaign for greater rights.

The New York-based group said Tuesday the proceedings against protesters in civilian courts and military-style tribunals violated international standards for fair trials.

Dozens of people have been convicted of anti-state crimes and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the special security court.

Bahrain abolished the military-linked court and transferred protest-related trials to civilian courts in November

Syrian President Assad endorses new constitution after referendum

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

has endorsed the newly drafted constitution, which has been supported by the majority of the people in the country’s Sunday referendum.

The new constitution took legal effect on Monday after ballot results were announced by Syria’s Interior Minister Mohammad Chaar.

The Syrian government held the referendum on Sunday during which nearly 89.4 percent of the participants voted in favor of the new constitution.

The constitution will now allow political pluralism and will also enact a presidential limit of two seven-year terms. The constitution is part of the reforms promised by Assad.

Damascus has also pledged multi-party parliamentary elections within three months.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. The violence has claimed the lives of hundreds of people, including security forces.

Damascus blames ‘outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups’ for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad. The West and the Syrian opposition, however, accuse the government of killing the protesters.

Sharmeen Chinoy launches anti-acid campaign

Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women.Pakistan s first Oscar winner launched a campaign on Tuesday, hoping that her documentary about survivors of acid attacks can help eliminate a crime that disfigures hundreds of women each year.
Pictures of 33-year-old Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy collecting her award in the short documentary category were splashed across newspapers as editors fell over themselves to praise the young woman.Her film "Saving Face" follows victims as they struggle to recover and bring their attackers to justice, and shows the work of British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who helps restore their faces and lives.
Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women, who are too often classified as second-class citizens. Victims are disfigured for life and ostracised by society.
The team behind the documentary are using their website to launch a campaign raising awareness about the attacks, inflicted on around 200 women each year in Pakistan, and to strengthen legislation against the violence.
"The film must be more than an expose of horrendous crimes, it must be a recipe for addressing the problem and a hope for the future," co-director Daniel Junge says on www.savingfacefilm.com.
Pakistan s parliament last year adopted tougher penalties for the crime, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees ($11,000). The new law came into effect on December 28.
Obaid-Chinoy s mother, Saba, told AFP that the campaign was launched formally after her daughter won the Oscar, which had "provided her with a unique opportunity and strength to strive for her goal more effectively".
"The campaign is mainly aimed at making our society more humane and better to live. It is to help and remedy those who are victims of such brutality and injustice," she told AFP.
The website said the film, which few have seen in Pakistan, was "uniquely positioned to advance awareness, education and prevention efforts".
"We re consulting with surgeons, scholars, journalists, activists and other experts, some of whom have also agreed to join our emerging advisory team, in order to maximize the impact of our outreach work," it adds.
The chairwoman of Acid Survivors Pakistan, a partner in the campaign, told AFP that the fight to eliminate the crime had only just started and that the campaign would increase awareness, partly by showing the film widely.
Valerie Khan Yusufzai said eight acid attacks had been reported in Pakistan so far in 2012 and that all had been registered with police.
"We now need to strengthen the momentum to get more legislation passed which will complement the law that got passed in May 2011," Yusufzai told AFP.
She said new efforts in 2012 needed to focus on overcoming challenges of investigation, difficulties at trial, helping the state provide rehabilitation services and establishing a board to develop funding and to act as monitors.
She praised the film for focusing not only on Pakistan s struggle, but the achievements of citizens, survivors, lawyers, activists and parliamentarians in helping to curb the menace, which she said set an example to other countries.

Pakistan media hail first Oscar winner

Delighted Pakistani newspapers on Tuesday fell over themselves to praise the young woman director who brought joy to the troubled, Al-Qaeda-hit nation by winning the country's first ever Oscar.

Pictures of 33-year-old Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy collecting her statuette in Hollywood were splashed across the front pages of every paper with headlines such as "Sharmeen brings Oscar glory to Pakistan" and "Take a bow Sharmeen".

She won in the short documentary category with her film "Saving Face" about survivors of acid attacks and British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who returned to his homeland to help restore their faces and lives.

Liberal English-language daily The Express Tribune, which is based in Obaid-Chinoy's home city of Karachi, called her win a victory and expressed hope that she will become "the face of a more liberal and tolerant Pakistan".

"Unlike politicians in our country who spend billions to improve Pakistan's image in the international community, she has done so by her talent and hard work," the paper said.

The Oscar was "a boost for film-makers throughout Pakistan as it shows the talent that is present here" but the paper also highlighted the need for much "soul-searching and reflection" on how to counter violence against women.

Pakistan's oldest English-language newspaper, Dawn, said Obaid-Chinoy's Oscar was a welcome break from the usual foreign coverage of Pakistan that focuses on Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, poverty, corruption and nuclear weapons.

"Seeing Pakistan being talked about in such a positive context in the international press makes for a welcome change, prone as the country is to being discussed for myriad errors of omission and commission," it said.

The Urdu-language press was also full of praise.

"It seems like a dream to a Pakistani film to get the Oscar but Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has made it possible," wrote Nawa-e-Waqt in a special, colour supplement published to celebrate the win.

"The whole of Pakistan prayed for her and impatiently waited for the award ceremony. Her victory made every Pakistani happy," the paper said.

"She has done a wonderful job."

But English-language paper The News sounded a note of caution, remarking that: "Although the award is a matter of personal and national pride, its content is a matter of national shame.

"Pakistan is reportedly the third-most dangerous country in the world for women after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo," it said.

"What is more important is that Chinoy's effort holds up a mirror to us for critical self-examination."

PAKISTAN'S Sectarian violence: Jundallah claims responsibility for Kohistan bus attack


Outlawed terrorist group Jundallah has claimed responsibility for an attack a bus on Karakoram Highway in the Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which killed 18 people on Tuesday.

Jundallah’s commander Ahmed Marwat, who contacted media persons soon after the attack, claimed responsibility for the assault.

The attack took place when gunmen opened fire on the bus which was en route to Gilgit from Rawalpindi with 39 passengers on board. The bus was owned by Mashaburum private bus service.

Seven armed men stopped two buses and a coaster. The armed men were reported to be in Army uniform. They asked the passengers to get off the bus and shot them after checking their CNICs.

Most of the victims were pilgrims who were going back to their native areas after visiting holy shrines in Iran.

A source in the district administration in Dassu told The Express Tribune that residents of Tangir’s Darkai valley, Commander Abdul Qayyum, Saddar Shariat and Burhan Shariat, sons of Gul Shahzada: Abdul Karim and Abdul Qadeem, sons of Abdul Ghafoor are suspected to be involved in the massacre.

Driver Muhammad Younus of Nagar valley, Najibullah, Suhail Ahmed are among the deceased.

“All the people on board were Shia, and at the moment it looks like they were targeted by armed men from the local Sunni community,” a senior police official had earlier told Reuters.

“Armed men hiding on both sides of the road attacked the bus,” local police chief Mohammad Ilyas said.

“Initial reports said 18 people have died and eight wounded,” he added.

Police officials said the bus came under attack in an area inhabited by two Sunni tribes about 165 km (102 miles) north of Islamabad.

The ambush happened near the town of Harban Nullah. DCO Chilas confirmed the incident.

The bodies of the deceased have been kept at Shatial hospital.

Local MP Abdul Sattar Khan linked the ambush to the murder of two Sunni Muslims a few days ago in Gilgit.

“The people of the area had vowed they would take revenge,” Khan told AFP by telephone.

Rehman Malik constitutes three-member investigation team

Interior Minister Rehman Malik constituted a three-member investigation team which will be supervised by the Deputy Inspector General of Hazara Division.

The team will comprise members from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and police officials.

The team will produce an investigation report within three days.

President Zardari takes notice of the attack

President Asif Ali Zardari, while taking notice of the attack said that the injured admitted in the hospital should be facilitated with the best treatment.

President Zardari also sought an investigative report of the attack.

Schools in Gilgit to remain closed for three days: CM G-B

While speaking to Express News, Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah said that he was in contact with the chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and that investigations were underway.

“We [G-B government] have alerted the army, Frontier Corps and police so that no other incident could take place,” said Shah.

He said that section 144 has been imposed in Gilgit, while schools will remain closed for three days.

Prime Minister Gilani contempt of court hearing adjourned till March 7

The Supreme Court (SC) accepted the application put forward by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to call Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi as defence witness in a contempt case along with the summaries mentioned in the application.
A seven-judge SC bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk was hearing the case.
The head of the bench, Justice Nasirul Mulk, said that the notice was sent to PM on the official basis but not on the individual terms.
The counsel of prime minister, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan said, referring to the various arguments on appeal, that he wanted to present evidences and witnesses and that a chance should be granted to him to examine them.
Aitzaz Ahsan argued that the notices were sent to the federal government instead of the prime minister.
He said that his client has done the same which should have been done according to the terms and regulations.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan requested the court to summon law and defence secretaries and former law minister Babar Awan to record their statements as court witnesses.
Earlier, on Feb 16, Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq had submitted evidence relating to the contempt of court against the prime minister.
It contained 43 documents (469 pages in four volumes) mainly consisting of different court orders — Dec 16, 2010, NRO verdict, Nov 25, 2011, SC judgments in the NRO review petition and NRO implementation case from May 24, 2010, to Feb 16, 2012, in Ahmed Riaz Sheikh and Adnan A. Khawaja cases.
On Feb 27, Barrister Ahsan, in his three-page miscellaneous application requested the court to direct the law secretary to produce May 21, 2010 and Sept 21, 2010 summaries on the basis of which the prime minister had decided not to write a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening $60 million money laundering cases.
He also sought a court direction for the law secretary to produce the orders issued by the accused prime minister on these summaries.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy,always wanted to be a journalist

“We began screaming at the top of our voices when Melissa McCarthy started to say `Saving…`,” said Mahjabeen Obaid, recalling the moment when her sister, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy`s film was announced as the winner in the category of documentary short at the Oscars on Monday morning.

The entire family, including three of her four sisters, younger brother, and aunts, was at her mother`s house in Karachi watching the live broadcast amidst nail-biting suspense.

One sister is away at college in the US.

“We`re all so proud of Sharmeen. She does what she`s good at. Also, her acceptance speech was delivered with such poise and grace even though she spoke extempore,” said Ms Obaid. Saving Face

Sharmeen has co-directed with Daniel Junge.

According to Ms Obaid, the family spoke to her sister before the ceremony and later while she was at the governor`s ball following the event. “She was very excited, naturally, but also quite exhausted,” she said. “We have no idea at this point when she`ll be coming home, but it`ll probably be another eight to nine days. She has a round of press conferences to attend, as well as other related events. But you can be sure we`ll all be there at the airport to receive her — she`s a national hero!”

Sharmeen is the eldest of five sisters and an 11-year-old brother. She grew up in Karachi, studying at the Karachi Grammar School and then later at Smith College and Stanford University in the US. Her sister, Ms Obaid, said that their parents had always supported them in pursuing whatever direction they chose in life. “All five of us sisters have studied abroad. Three of us chose to work in our family textile business with our father, who passed away last year. But from the beginning Sharmeen always wanted to be a journalist.”

Even though she acknowledged that her sister`s work and the places it took her to caused her parents some concern, she said they never stood in her way. “Sharmeen`s very hardworking and very brave, and my father saw a lot of himself in her,” she added. Saving Face

Shahbaz Sumar, associate producer of , said he knew the documentary was going to make waves when he began researching the story in early 2010. “Daniel Junge chose the subject very carefully, and we all worked really hard on selecting the right characters for the film,” he explained.

“We had to choose the ones that had the most impact, whose stories carried the most weight. They also had to be women whose surgical procedures would be such that we could film them over the course of a year and a half.”

It was only after they had filmed 20 to 25 acid attack survivors that they settled on the two — Rukhsana and Zakia — who featured in the final cut.

Convincing the women to agree to be filmed was no easy task, and the production team spent many days going back and forth getting to know them and their families. “Their stories were so moving, that we got quite attached to them,” recalled Mr Sumar. “I don`t know how they feel with all the publicity in the media, but this is certainly wonderful for Pakistan.”