Monday, September 10, 2012

Australia smash Pakistan in final Twenty20

David Warner and Shane Watson smashed a century opening stand and led Australia to a commanding 94-run victory over Pakistan in the third and final Twenty20 match. Warner hit 59 off 34 balls and Watson was equally aggressive in scoring 47 in Australia's impressive score of 168-7. Pakistan, who won the series 2-1, stumbled in their run-chase at 36-6 before being bowled out for 74 in 19.1 overs. It was Pakistan's heaviest ever defeat in Twenty20s while consolation for Australia before World Twenty20 begins in Sri Lanka next week as it slipped to No 10 in the world rankings after losing the opening two matches against Pakistan. Pakistan were out of reckoning once the top order crumbled, with seamers Mitchell Starc (3-11) and Patrick Cummins (3-15) taking the bowling honours. Pakistan - famous for their nervy run-chases - never got a kick start as Cummins and Starc swung the ball appreciably under lights at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Cummins got rid of skipper Mohammad Hafeez and former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik in one over while Starc removed Imran Nazir and Kamran Akmal. Umar Akmal was splendidly caught in the deep by a running Michael Hussey and when top scorer Nasir Jamshed (17) was caught by George Bailey Pakistan stumbled to 36-6 in the 10th over. Yasir Arafat (15) and Abdul Razzaq (13) delayed the inevitable before Starc and Cummins mopped up the tail. Earlier, after being sent in to bat both Warner and Watson batted aggressively against Pakistan's spinners, who had caused trouble for the Australian batsmen in the previous two losses. Warner hit six sixes and a four and Watson hammered five sixes and a boundary in an electrifying 111-run first wicket stand - the best Australian partnership for any wicket in the shortest format of the game. Warner's best shot came against ace offspinner Saeed Ajmal when the left-hander smacked a switch hit for a big six. Watson was equally good when he lofted offspinner Shoaib Malik for three sixes in an over. Seamer Arafat (2-30), playing his first match of the series, got rid of both openers in his successive overs and Ajmal stemmed the flow of runs with some tidy bowling. Watson misread a slow bouncer and was caught at short fine leg and Warner gave a skier to Mohammad Hafeez. Australia lost a flurry of wickets in order to keep up the scoring tempo, with Ajmal sneaking in two wickets for 19 runs after leaking 15 in his second over to Warner and Watson.Pakistan brought in allrounder Arafat in place of left-arm fast bowler Sohail Tanvir. Australia also made one change after losing the second game in a one-over eliminator, with allrounder Glenn Maxwell replacing David Hussey.

Florida pizza shop owner powerlifts Obama

Florida pizza shop owner Scott Van Duzer lifted President Barack Obama a solid foot off the ground in a bear hug during an unscripted stop at his Fort Pierce, Fla., store. Literally.
So what did the Secret Service think about Van Duzer — a registered Republican who says he'll vote for Obama in November — hoisting the president? "He said I was all right as long as I didn't take him away," Van Duzer told reporters. Obama, wrapping up a two-day bus tour through Florida, dropped by the Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Restaurant for the kind of unannounced visit that breathes life into sometimes dreary campaign travel. "Scott, what's going on, man," the president called as he arrived. "Let me tell you, you are like the biggest pizza shop owner I've ever seen." "Everybody, look at these guns," Obama said as he chatted with Van Duzer, who is 6'3" and weighs 260 pounds. "If I eat your pizza will I look like that?" "The two men laughed. They embraced.
Van Duzer lifed Potus a good foot off the ground," according to the pool report filed by Politico's Reid Epstein (who is featured giving his best "gadzooks!" look on the far right in the picture below). "Look at that!" Obama said upon his return to terra firma. "Man, are you a powerlifter or what?" Well, yes. The pool report notes that Van Duzer later said he can bench press 350 pounds. The pizza store he founded 16 years ago is the only place he's ever worked. And he has received commendations from the surgeon general's office for his work in encouraging blood donations. (Does he "encourage" with hugs?) "I still wonder how he got these biceps," sad Obama. "But what we know is that the guy's just got a big heart along with big pecs. So we're very proud of him and we just want to say thank you for all the great work." Van Duzer said he got 40-minutes' notice that the president was coming — and raced to his shop from the driving range. He told the pool that he is a "big political person" (Big. Yes.) and was "just overcome with excitement" — which led to the hug. "I don't vote party line, I vote who I feel comfortable with, and I do feel extremely comfortable with him," said Van Duzer, who also voted for Obama in 2008.

Election campaign: President Zardari to visit provinces

President Asif Ali Zardari
will undertake visit to Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab phase wise as part of his election campaign. President Zardari would visit Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa next month in view of preparations to the forthcoming general elections in the country. During his short stay in the Provincial Capital, President Asif Ali Zardari will meet host of party activists, MNAs in Governor House while will address party activists at various places in this regard. President Asif Ali Zardari will also soon visit Balochistan, to address the grievances of the people in Balochistan. Strict security measures will be taken for the visit of the president.

Imran Khan must not offload the entire blame of Shia genocide on foreign conspiracies

Let Us Build Pakistan
Speaking at a recent television talk show, PTI chief Imran Khan tried to draw parallels between sectarian killings of Shia Muslims in Pakistan and conflicts in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria, saying he was convinced that the sectarianism in these Muslim countries was part of an international conspiracy to pit Sunnis and Shias against each other. However, the PTI chairman did not give any evidence to back up this claim. People of this country have long heard of a ‘foreign hand’ working to destabilise this country by fanning sectarian and ethnic violence but that hand has never been exposed. It is time for us to face the reality and, instead of blaming others for our problems, admit that many of these problems stem from our own flawed policies. Sectarian violence, which in the main involves target killing of Shiites, in Pakistan started much before it erupted in other Muslim countries. The sectarian strife in Iraq started with the downfall of Saddam Hussein and infiltration of al-Qaeda fighters into that country. In Bahrain, the majority Shia population has long been struggling against the Khalifa dynasty, while in Syria numerous opposition groups have revolted against President Bashar al-Assad. With Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting rival sides in the Syrian conflict and al-Qaeda making inroads into Syria, there is now a growing fear of outbreak of an all-out civil war in the country on sectarian lines-as happened in Iraq. But the sectarian violence in Pakistan has a totally different context. In Pakistan, it was the so-called Islamisation drive of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq that gave birth to sectarianism in the country in the 1980s. Successive governments did not dare to rein in these sectarian militant groups because of their close links with the security establishment, which nurtured these and other jihadi groups to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan. A tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran for expanding their influence in the region also added fuel to the sectarian fire. After joining the war on terror, General Musharraf banned some of these groups but there was never any follow-up action by his government to fully dismantle these groups. Many of these groups resurfaced with new names and continued to fearlessly propagate their agendas. But the dangerous upsurge of sectarian violence in recent months warrants urgent and effective measures before it turns into a full-blown conflict like Iraq and Syria. Till now it has been more of a law and order problem than a sectarian issue since the members of the two Islamic sects largely live in peace with each other. The recent Fair Trial Bill is a good step but instead of dealing with the issue through piecemeal legislation, the government should thoroughly review its anti-terrorism laws and plug in loopholes. Nearly 5,000 people were reportedly killed in over 2,000 sectarian attacks in the country since 1989 but very few perpetrators were given an exemplary punishment to deter others from committing such crimes. Many suspected terrorists and criminals walk away free because of weak prosecution and lack of proper evidence. There are thousands of cases pending in the courts in which witnesses refuse to testify for fear of reprisal from terrorists. Many political parties try to appease radical groups for short-term political gains, particularly during elections. They should commit themselves against forging any alliances or seeking any support from such groups. Sectarianism cannot be brought fully under control unless the security situation in the tribal areas stabilises because some of the major sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have signed up to al-Qaeda- and Taliban-inspired militancy and shifted their bases to these unruly regions.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government all set to satisfy UN team on missing persons

The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has completed the working paper on missing persons before arrival of the UN special team to probe the matter. The working paper would be presented to United Nations team , which would investigate the matter of missing persons. The team members would also meet all the four provincial governors and chief ministers. The team would reach Peshawar on 15th September (Saturday)for which provincial government has completed all the arrangements. After their arrival they would attend the briefing of the high officials on the issue of missing persons.

PM Raja leaves for China to represent Pakistan at WEF

The Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf left for China Monday to attend the meeting of World Economic Forum being held at Tianjin from September 10 to 13. Talking to the media persons at Chaklala airbase before departure‚ the Prime Minister said China is our time tested friend and both the countries have stood by each other in difficult times. He said Pakistan wants to further strengthen its relations with China. During interaction with the Chinese leadership‚ he will discuss expansion of bilateral relations in diverse fields including the energy sector. He said the Chinese companies are already making large scale investments in different sectors. On the sideline of World Economic Forum to be held at the Chinese port city Tianjin‚ the Prime Minister will hold talks with the Chinese leadership including his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on regional situation and expansion of bilateral relations in different fields. He will also meet with other heads of the governments and the business leaders on the sideline of the summit. The World Economic Forum is scheduled to be held at Tianjin from September 10 to 13. Finance Minister, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and other officials are accompanying the Prime Minister during the visit. Talking to media persons at Chaklala Air Base, the Prime Minister who is on his first ever visit to China said the WEF is important forum to interact with world leaders, economic experts and heads of international financial institutions. He said he will also interact with Chinese leaders especially the Premier of China and discuss all range of issues relating to cooperation in trade, economic and energy sector. China is trust worthy friend and always supported Pakistan in all odds and difficult times, he said. The Prime Minister said, "Pakistan is proud of its ties with China as Pak-China friendship is higher than Hamalays, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey." He said issue of Gwadar port and more cooperation in energy sector will be especially discussed by him during his meeting with Chinese leadership. The Prime Minister, on the sideline of WEF, will hold bilateral meeting with Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister of China. The Prime Minister is also scheduled to meet with other head of the governments invited to the forum. He said he will also interact with CEOs of prominent Chinese companies and business leaders besides interaction with the Chinese media during the visit. The Prime Minister will also be discussion leader during the informal gathering of World Economic Leaders.

Pakistani Courts: Conviction & Acquittal of Militants’

Let Us Build Pakistan
A sessions court acquitted on Tuesday seven alleged members of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in a police encounter case for want of evidence. The seven men — Saeed Anwar alias Moulvi, Hazrat Umar alias Ameer Sahib, Hamid Ali alias Hamesh alias Baatu, Khan Wali, Khan Alam, Saifur Rehman and Karamat Khan — were arrested in November 2010 after a shootout within the remit of the Gulistan-i-Jauhar police station. The accused through their counsel moved acquittal applications in court and Additional District and Sessions Judge (south) Javed Ahmed Keerio, who conducted the trial in the judicial complex (central prison), allowed the pleas after hearing both sides. The court ruled that the prosecution remained unable to place any confidence-inspiring evidence before it against the accused and there was no possibility of conviction in future. At the time of their arrest, the then city police chief, Waseem Ahmed, had claimed that the accused were active members of the banned TTP and planning to target government installations and senior officials in the city. He had alleged that a large cache of explosive materials, suicide jackets and illicit weapons were found in their possession. They were also involved in a botched attack on the Keamari oil terminal and were close aides to the Karachi chief of the TTP, he added. A number of cases were registered against them under Sections 324 (attempted murder) and 353 (criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 4/5 of the Explosive Substance Act and 13-D of the Pakistan Arms Ordinance, 1965 at the Gulistan-i-Jauhar police station. However, the accused have already been acquitted in illicit weapons and explosive substance cases for lack of evidence.

Car bomb kills 8 Shiite Muslims in northwest
Pakistani government officials say a car bomb has ripped through a crowded market in a tribal region in the country’s northwest, killing eight people. Sahibzada Anis says the Monday afternoon explosion in the town of Parachinar in the Kurram region also wounded 45.nother government official, Naseer Khan, said all of the dead were Shiite Muslims. The majority of people in Kurram are Shiites. They’re often targeted by Pakistani Taliban or its affiliated Sunni sectarian groups who don’t believe that Shiites are true Muslims.


Renowned Human Rights Activist and Former President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jahinger has said that Army wants to exploit the resources of Balochistan and wants to snatch the right of ownership of the Baloch people. “I receive threats that why I visit Balochistan and what relation I have with them,” She said this during a one day conference of Supreme Court Bar Association on Balochistan held here at a local hotel in Quetta on Sunday. The Conference was organized by the President of Supreme Court Bar Association Yasin Azad. Number of federal and nationalist parties and human rights organizations attended the conference including, Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, PPP, PML-N, Balochistan National Party (Mengal), National Party, JUI, JI, Pakhtunkwa Mili Awami Party, Markazi Jamiat Ahl-i-Ahdis, and Awami National Party. Asma Jahinger further said, “I’m highly agonized whenever mutilated dead bodies appear as I’m too a mother and can feel the pain.” She said that she had file a petition in 2007 the supreme court wherein she had asked the ISI and MI that whom they were accountable and under which law they operated She said that the same questioned was raised by Farhat Ullah Babar in the senate upon which he received reply from security agencies that they were accountable to the Defence Ministry in operational sense but some other accountabilities were state secrete which could not be told to Senate. She said that thousands of people have come up with witnesses that who picked their beloved ones but no arrests had been made in this connection. She said that She and Zahoor Shahwani, the president of Balochistan Bar Association (BBA), had a met (late) Nawab Akbar Bugti before operation and asked him if he was ready for talks, upon which he had replied, “Talks! with language of guns? Orders have been issued for my, Balach Marri and Barhamdagh Bugti’s murder,” Asma Jahinger said that the same later proved to be true and the agencies good incentive of killing political leaders with impunity, adding that the assassination of the Benazir Bhuto was a consequence of that impunity. She said that whenever she contacted with someone the issue of Balochistan, she got the reply that law and order situation existed in all province. Negating the notion, she said “The law and order problems were created in Balochistan by our own protectors.” She said that Ulema had a positive role in Balochistan and they were not imported ones that’s why they could better understand the Balochistan issue and could help in bringing down the killing of Hazara, settlers and Baloch in the province which is a human rights violation. She said that nobody was born a separatist in Balochistan, but they were born as nationalists and it was not a sin, adding that they have the right to work for the welfare of the people. “They were compelled to take that course by us,” she said. She said that the representatives of Balochistan were seen in the super-markets of Islamabad, adding that if they can not handle the situation and fear for their lives, they should resign the government. Chalking out way-forward, she said, “It has to be decided who is going to rule in Balochistan: civilians or the Khaki, elections are to be conducted free and fair or by ISI or MI?” She demanded that a High Powered Commission should be created with fullest mandate of reaching out all the stake-holders and implementing their suggestions. She said that the High Powered Commission should have the authority to take decisions and the army chief, “Mr. Kyani this is what we civilians want and you will do it.” She recommended that Supreme Court should monitor the upcoming elections so that they could be transparent and genuine leadership could come to the fore. However, she expressed her fear that given the volatile situation elections may not take place in Balochistan, saying that if they don’t the blue caps (UN representatives) would be controlling the matters in Balochistan. Addressing on the occasion former President of Supreme Court Bar Association Ali Ahmed Kurd said that target killings had turned Balochistan in general and Quetta in particular a highly volatile place, adding that those silent on acts of killing were a party to it. He said that this conference would not yield any results until the responsible were made accountable. He said, “If the people of Pakistan don’t come on the roads and oppose the cruelty, as we did for restoration of judges, nothing is going to improve.” He said that it was very true, as quoted by fourth caliph of Islam Hazrat Ali, “States could survive with pagan rule but not with cruelty and injustice,” The Acting President of BNP (Mengal) Dr. Jahnzaib Jamaldini said that the conference had one positive thing that the invited guests from all over the country saw the appalling conditions in Balochistan and the damaged infrastructure. He said that the word, disgruntled Baloch, was a contemptuous word for Baloch as they hatred was not of a one day rather it was result of 64 years long deprivations. He said that nobody bothered about the fate of Baloch for the last ten years when they were killed and their bodies thrown in barren place, adding that but since the day a bill was presented in Congress, everyone seemed bothered. He said that Baloch did not need the sympathy of anyone rather wanted the national identity. He said that the rivers of Punjab and their revenue went to Punjab but the under-ground resources and ground resources game was played with Balochistan and all the revenue of Reko-dic, Chamalang, coast of 780 km went to Islamabad. The President of Balochistan Bar Association Zahoor Ahmed Shahwani said that everyone said that FC was involved in the cases of missing persons, adding that a government report on Balochistan Missing Persons also said that dozens of evidences suggested that FC was involved in all the saga of missing persons. He said that on 6th of February 2012 Sadique Umrani accepted on the floor of the assembly that he had eye-witnessed FC killing three people. He said that the Balochistan problem was not a priority of the provincial or federal governments. He said that the Naveed Qamar Committee came to Balochistan only for 3 hours so what could be expected of it without a mandate with such a short visit. He said that mine owners in Balochistan had requested him repeatedly to save them from the brutality of FC, saying that FC demanded 320 rupees on every ton of coal excavated form mines and the owners had to show their ID cards to enter into their own mines. He said that he opposed the governor rule in Balochistan but suggested that FC should be withdrawn from the province at the earliest and it was not a solution but a part of the problem itself. The PML-N Balochistan leader General Qadir Baloch said that nobody spoke of independence before Musharraf era, adding that Balach marri had bore a oath of allegiance to the Pakistani constitution when he had been elected for National and Provincial assembly membership in 2002 and 2007. He suggested that a commission should be formed to investigate if military operation was necessary in 2005. “This will pin-point the all matters and their causes in Balochistan,” the retired general suggested. Mr. Qadir Baloch said that FC did have a Police training and that’s why it misbehaved with the people. The Chairman of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons Nasarullah Baloch said that some genuine stake holders were missing in the conference whose presence he felt necessary, saying that 450 mutilated dead bodies had surfaced of the university students, doctors and political activists. “These people, the cream of Baloch nation, are killed because they talk and propagate the fact and injustices being done to them.” He said that complete army’s rule prevailed in Balochistan and it was responsibility of journalists to highlight the issue internationally. The founding member of National Party and the veteran politician Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch said that Balochistan was never a part of India historically and in 1948 both the houses of Kalat had unanimously decided to remain independent. However, Balochistan was forcibly merged with Pakistan and since then by various tactics they were trying to turn Balochistan into Red Indians. “More than 2 million Afghan refugees had been enlisted in voters list to turn Baloch in minority in Quetta only,” he said. “We are not going to be Red Indians at any cost. We will fight and sacrifice our lives for Baloch land,” Dr. Hayee concluded.

Pakistan: UN mission arrives to investigate “enforced disappearances”

A UN delegation has arrived in Pakistan on a 10-day mission to investigate cases of “enforced disappearances” plaguing the country at the invitation of the government, a spokeswoman said on Monday. International and Pakistani human rights groups estimate thousands of people have been kidnapped and detained in secret prisons in the past decade, allegedly by security forces. The Supreme Court is already investigating cases of missing people in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where the military has been accused of rights violations in its bid to put down a separatist insurgency. “The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has arrived in Pakistan at the invitation of the government,” UN spokeswoman Ishrat Rizvi told AFP. She said the high-level delegation led by Olivier de Frouville arrived on Sunday and will stay in Pakistan until September 20. “The UN experts will gather information on cases of enforced disappearances,” the UN said in an earlier statement. They will also study the “measures adopted by the state to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances, including issues related to truth, justice and reparation for the victims of enforced disappearances”. The Supreme Court’s investigation of the missing in Balochistan is the latest effort aimed at bringing the powerful military and intelligence agencies to book over mass arrests of alleged terror suspects, many of whom are never seen again. “The visit of the group will provide an opportunity to highlight the efforts being undertaken by the government to address this important issue and to further improve the relevant procedures”, the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement. The mission will meet members of the civil society, media, jurists and officials from the foreign and interior ministries to prepare their report.

Zardari completes 4-year of his term

President Asif Ali Zardari has completed four-year of his office on Sunday. After the resignation of the former dictator Pervez Musharraf‚ he assumed the charge of the office in a democratic way. Under his guidance the present democratic government‚ restored the 1973 constitution to its original form through 18th‚ 19th and 20th constitutional amendments and introduce the parliamentary system in the country in its true form. He transferred his powers to the parliament voluntarily, promoted the politics of ‘reconciliation’. Radio Pakistan is broadcasting comprehensive programmes to highlight the achievements of the PPP government under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari to mark completion of four year in office. Impressions of people belonging to different walks of life‚ journalists‚ intellectuals and analysts are being broadcast during the four-day programmes. Interviews of the federal ministers‚ PPP leaders‚ members of National Assembly‚ Senate‚ and provincial assemblies are being aired by different radio stations all over the country. The focus of the special programmes is President Zardari’s politics of reconciliation‚ restoration of judiciary and its independence‚ approval of NFC Award‚ restoration of 1973 constitution through 18th‚ 19th and 20th constitutional amendments and measures for sovereignty of the parliament. The programmes also highlighted Aghaz Haqooq-e Balochistan poverty reduction efforts and launching of Benazir Income Support Programme‚ provincial autonomy and transfer of 17 ministries to the provinces and constitutional package for Gilgit-Baltistan. The programme highlighted the measures taken by the Government for giving political and economic rights to people of Seraiki region to improve Pakistan’s image at world level‚ provision of employment and regularization of contract workers‚ effective measures against terrorism including operation in Swat and Waziristan and rehabilitation of IDPs‚ and effective measure to overcome the energy crisis.

Blasphemy law: Protection to Christians, law amendment demanded

The government should provide “total protection” to Pakistan Christians, including Rimsha and her family, demanded a panel of five speakers at a press conference by Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). The eight-point list of demands issued by CLAAS include provision of psycho-social trauma counselling to Rimsha and that she be tried under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance provisions, keeping in mind that she suffers from Down’s Syndrome. Other demands are: 1) Qari Khalid Jadoon, the prayer leader who accused Rimsha, be tried under the existing blasphemy laws. 2) the report and recommendations of a parliamentary committee on blasphemy laws chaired by MNA Nafeesha Shah be made public. 3) the blasphemy law be revised to prevent its misuse, abuse and exploitation. 4) prevent law enforcement agencies from succumbing to mob threats, pressure and allowing extra-judicial mob vigilante actions. The speakers on the panel were CLAAS Director Joseph Francis, Raiwind Bishop Samuel Robert Azariah, rights activist Tahira Abdullah, Christian-Muslim Federation International Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamosh and Christian Study Centre Peace & Interfaith Harmony Director Romana Bashir. Abdullah elaborated during the Q&A session that the Urdu translation of the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan focuses just on Islam instead of ensuring respect for all religions, like Islam commands. She added that the problems in the blasphemy laws arose after General Ziaul Haq made a series of revisions and additions to them between 1982 and 1986. She concluded that there should be a single law ensuring respect for all religions in Pakistan.

171 Pakistani Hindus seek asylum in India

A group of Pakistani national Hindus 171 has sought asylum in India due to hardships in Pakistan. According to details a batch of 171 Hindus arrived in Jodhpur from Pakistan on Monday. Talking to media persons the leader of group Chetan Ram said that they were facing problems in Pakistan therefore they don't want to go back and Indian government should give them asylum. They have been accommodated temporarily in a temple campus until proper arrangements are made, Indian media reported. President of Seemant Lok Sangthan Singh Sodha, an organisation fighting for the rehabilitation of Hindu migrants said that he has intimated the chief minister about the matter, and expect him to direct the administration to make some arrangements for them. It should be mentioned that Hindus community group left the country in disguise, not disclosing about their departure even to their relatives.

US hands over Bagram prison to Afghans

Associated Press
U.S. officials handed over formal control of Afghanistan's only large-scale U.S.-run prison to Kabul on Monday, even as disagreements between the two countries over the Taliban and terror suspects held there marred the transfer. The handover ceremony took place at the prison next to a sprawling U.S. airfield in Bagram, just north of Kabul. President Hamid Karzai has hailed the transfer as a victory for Afghan sovereignty. Bagram, also known as the Parwan Detention Facility, has been the focus of controversy in the past but never had the notoriety of the prisons at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Earlier this year, the image of the prison was tarnished when hundreds of Qurans and other religious materials were taken from its library and sent to a burn pit at the military base. The event triggered scores of deadly anti-American protests across Afghanistan and led to the deaths of six U.S. soldiers. "We are telling the Afghan president and the Afghan people that today is a proud day," said Afghan army Gen. Ghulam Farouk, who now heads the prison. The U.S. had already given Afghanistan authority over most of the 3,000 detainees held at the prison before March 9, when the countries signed a handover agreement. As some may have been released or others brought in, the prison's current detainee population under U.S. control is not known but is thought to number in the hundreds. The U.S. recently suspended the transfer of new detainees apparently because of disagreements with Kabul, which has questioned the long-term detention of suspects without charge after their capture. The U.S. reportedly fears that Afghan authorities may simply let some detainees go, and appears reluctant to turn over all the suspects it holds. According to Farouk, the United States had transferred 3,082 detainees but was still in the process of transferring another 600 captured after the March agreement. The U.S. will also continue to hold about 50 non-Afghan prisoners that are not covered by the agreement on a small part of the facility that they will still administer. They are thought to include Pakistanis and other foreign nationals either captured in Afghanistan or transferred to Bagram from other wars, such as Iraq. The disagreement is not expected to impact military operations around Afghanistan, but it is an indication of the tense relations between the U.S.-led NATO military coalition and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It is also unlikely to impact the gradual handover of security responsibilities from NATO to Afghan forces. The United States and its allies are drawing down their military forces in Afghanistan and hope to fully hand over control to the Afghans by the end of 2014, when most foreign troops are to leave the country. Acting Afghan Defense Minister Enayatullah Nazary said after a ceremony that "very few prisoners" remained with the United States military and the rest are under Afghan control. He attributed the delay in handing over the rest to "technical issues." Nazary would not elaborate. ___

In Pakistan, girl freed but blasphemy debate still stuck
Activists seeking to reform Pakistan's stringent blasphemy laws had hoped this case would spur change.
Pakistan released from jail a Christian girl accused of burning Muslim religious texts and flew her to an undisclosed location by government helicopter. “Due to the security concerns surrounding her and the family, the girl is being kept in government’s protective custody and there are plans to settle them outside Islamabad,” says Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, one of her lawyers. The courts had approved the girl's bail on Friday at a sum of one million rupees (equivalent to $10,500), on the grounds of her being a minor. The accusations against the girl had also lost strength when it emerged that a local cleric had planted burnt pages of the Quran in the evidence, in order to evict Christians from the locality they were living in. Activists seeking to reform Pakistan's stringent blasphemy laws had hoped this case would spur public debate and government action toward amending the laws. However, that has not happened yet, say activists, and the girl's release may cause the spotlight to fade. “Even though we are happy that the child is now reunited with her parents, I am unhappy about the public face the government put on during the ordeal. The state did not come with any long term resolve to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws, and the debate does not even seem to go in that direction,” says Peter Jacob, head of one of the largest minority rights’ activist groups in Pakistan. Think you know Asia? Take our geography quiz. The blasphemy laws, which date back to the colonial times in South Asia, were carried forward in the constitution by Pakistani authorities after the country's independence in 1947. In the 1980s, draconian amendments to the laws by a military dictator were introduced, to the extent that anyone found guilty of committing blasphemy can be punished for life, and in severe cases, with a death sentence. “The text of the law has problems but even if that is changed, it is the mindset of society that needs to be changed,” says Marvi Sirmed, a social activist, who has been threatened many times over her strong secular views. “Until and unless the state divorces itself from religion, and becomes secular, persecution of minorities will continue to happen,” Ms. Sirmed adds. Religious clerics and a majority of the population in Pakistan still defend the laws, and do not tolerate any talks of reforms. Such support was underscored by the case of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province. When Mr. Taseer publicly denounced the laws last year and supported a Christian woman facing a death sentence for blasphemy, he was assassinated in broad daylight by his own police guard, Mumtaz Qadri. Mr. Qadri is on death row now but enjoys popular support in the country and is considered as a hero by many in Pakistan. Although some religious clerics came out in support of the minor girl, asking for the cleric to be punished, there was no talk of changing or repealing the laws by these religious lobbies. “There should be no change in the law because otherwise people will pick up guns and resort to violence themselves. The country can become very insecure,” says Ibtisam Elahi, an Islamic scholar, who is part of a religious alliance that opposes Pakistan’s friendly relations with the United States and India. “All laws are prone to abuse – but that does not mean they should be done away with,” Elahi adds, saying the persecution of the Christian minority in Pakistan does not exist and it is just “western media and NGO propaganda.” PAKISTAN'S CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY Pakistan's roughly 2.7 million Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population. The Christianity community here, both Catholic and Protestant, traces much of its roots back to missionary efforts during British rule of the Indian subcontinent. "In rural Punjab, a substantial proportion of the discrimination against the [Christian] community has been correlated to land grabbing," reads a report from last year by the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani NGO. "After some of the more serious mob attacks such as Gojra, Christian residents often did not return to their homes. Personal property and land, was in most cases, taken by local Muslim residents." Pakistan has registered nearly 1,000 blasphemy cases since 1986, with 180 of those against Christians and hundreds more against other religious minorities. Mr. Jacob, the minority rights activist, says that the government lost the opportunity once again to engage with elements in Pakistan that are usually unwilling to listen on blasphemy law reform. “This was the time to constitute an inquiry commission, for example, that could have sat down with those who oppose the reforms and use the girl’s case to highlight the rampant abuse of this law but that did not happen,” Jacob says. He also says the way the girl was airlifted from the jail reflects the government’s inability to stop the violence of extremists. “No one wants to talk about the reforms openly. It is just a few people who are asking for it to be repealed. And they are being killed one by one. First it was Salmaan Taseer, then the minorities’ minister - Shahbaz Bhatti. Tomorrow it will be me, and one day there will be no one left to stand up against the abuse,” says Ms. Sirmed.