Saturday, November 3, 2012

Obama seems to have early vote lead in key states

Associated Press/
President Barack Obama heads toward Election Day with an apparent lead over Republican Mitt Romney among early voters in key states that could decide the election. Obama's advantage, however, isn't as big as the one he had over John McCain four years ago, giving Romney's campaign hope that the former Massachusetts governor can erase the gap when people vote on Tuesday. More than 27 million people already have voted in 34 states and the District of Columbia. No votes will be counted until Election Day but several battleground states are releasing the party affiliation of people who have voted early. So far, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio — five states that could decide the election, if they voted the same way. Republicans have the edge in Colorado, which Obama won in 2008. Obama dominated early voting in 2008, building up such big leads in Colorado, Florida, Iowa and North Carolina that he won each state despite losing the Election Day vote, according to voting data compiled by The Associated Press. "In 2008, the McCain campaign didn't have any mobilization in place to really do early voting," said Michael McDonald, an early voting expert at George Mason University who tallies voting statistics for the United States Elections Project. "This time around the Romney campaign is not making the same mistake as the McCain campaign did." McDonald said he sees a shift toward Republicans among early voters, which could make a difference in North Carolina, which Obama won by the slimmest of margins in 2008, only 14,000 votes. The Republican shift, however, might not be enough to wipe out Obama's advantage in Iowa and Nevada, which Obama won more comfortably in 2008. In Colorado, Florida and Ohio, get ready for a long night of vote counting on Tuesday. Romney's campaign aides say they are doing so much better than McCain did four years ago that Romney is in great shape to overtake Obama in many of the most competitive states. "They are underperforming what their 2008 numbers were and we are overperforming where we were in 2008," said Rich Beeson, Romney's political director. "We feel very good heading into the Tuesday election." Obama's campaign counters that Romney can't win the presidency simply by doing better than McCain. "It's not about whether or not they're doing better than John McCain did," said Jeremy Bird, Obama's national field director. "It's about whether or not they're doing better than us." About 35 percent of voters are expected to cast ballots before Tuesday, either by mail or in person. Voters always can cross party lines when they vote for any office, and there are enough independent voters in many states to swing the election, if enough of them vote the same way. Still, both campaigns are following the early voting numbers closely, using them to gauge their progress and plan their Election Day strategies. A look at early voting in the tightest states: ___ Colorado About 1.6 million people have voted, and Republicans outnumber Democrats 37 percent to 35 percent. Those numbers are a reversal from four years ago at this time. Inevitably, Obama won the early vote by 9 percentage points in 2008, giving him a big enough cushion to win the state, despite narrowly losing the Election Day vote. Early voting in Colorado is expected to account for about 80 percent of all votes cast, giving it more weight than in other states. ___ Florida About 3.9 million people have voted, and 43 percent were Democrats and 40 percent were Republicans. For years ago at this time, Democratic early voters had a 9 percentage point lead over Republicans. Obama won Florida's early vote by 10 percentage points in 2008, getting 400,000 more early votes than McCain, enough to offset McCain's advantage on Election Day. In Florida, Republicans have historically done better among people who vote by mail, while Democrats have done better among people who vote early in person. For 2012, Florida's Republican-led Legislature reduced the number of in-person early voting days from 14 to eight. The Obama campaign responded by encouraging more supporters to vote by mail, and Democrats were able to narrow the gap among mail ballots. Democrats quickly took the lead among all early voters, once in-person early voting started. But the margins are slim. The Obama campaign acknowledges it must do better among Florida's Election Day voters than Obama did on 2008, when McCain won the Election Day vote by 5 percentage points. ___ Iowa About 614,000 people have voted, already exceeding Iowa's total number of early votes in 2008. So far this year, 43 percent of early voters were Democrats and 32 percent were Republicans. Four years ago, Obama won the early vote in Iowa by a whopping 27 percentage points, 63 percent to 36 percent. McCain, meanwhile, won the Election Day vote by about 1,800 votes — less than a percentage point. Together, they added up to a 10-point victory for Obama. Romney's campaign argues that Democrats always do better among early voters in Iowa while Republicans do better among Election Day voters, even when President George W. Bush narrowly carried the state in 2004. Obama's campaign counters that with early voting on the rise, Romney will be left with fewer Election Day voters to make up the difference. ___ Nevada About 628,000 people have voted, and 44 percent were Democrats and 37 percent were Republicans. Four years ago, Obama won Nevada's early vote big, 59 percent to 39 percent. Obama also won Nevada's Election Day vote on his way to a comfortable 13-point win over McCain. The Romney campaign argues that Obama isn't doing nearly as well among early voters in Nevada as he did in 2008. The Obama campaign argues that it doesn't have to. ___ North Carolina About 2.5 million people have voted, and 48 percent of them were Democrats and 32 percent of them were Republicans. Four years ago at this time, Democrats had a slightly larger lead over Republicans, and Obama won the early vote by 11 percentage points. Obama lost the Election Day Vote by 17 percentage points in 2008. But the early vote was much bigger than the Election Day vote, resulting in Obama's narrow win. Obama's campaign cites the big lead for Democrats among early voters, while Romney's campaign argues that even a small shift toward the Republicans could flip the state to Romney. ___ Ohio More than 1.6 million people have voted, and 29 percent were Democrats and 23 percent were Republicans. Forty-seven percent were unaffiliated, more than enough voters to swing the state to either candidate. Ohio may once again be pivotal in the race for the presidency. Unfortunately, Ohio's early voting data is limited. Party affiliation in Ohio is based on the last primary in which a voter participated, so new voters and those who don't vote in primaries are listed as unaffiliated. In 2008, Obama won Ohio by 5 percentage points. ___

Is Romney Unraveling?

Time is running out for Mitt Romney. According to the latest polls, the most likely outcome of Tuesday’s election is that Romney will lose. If he does, it will likely be a bitter pill to swallow. He would have come so close only to have fate and circumstances step in at the final hour and give President Obama a boost. How is Romney losing it? Let us count the ways: 1) The economy continues to improve. The argument for electing Romney hinges on a sour economy and his experience as a businessman with the expertise to turn it around. But, on measure after measure, the economy seems to be getting better. A Commerce Department report released last month found that housing starts jumped 15 percent in September — the largest surge in four years. The unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent in September and the October jobs report released on Friday was stronger than expected. Furthermore, according to a Gallup report also released Friday: “The U.S. Payroll to Population employment rate (P2P), as measured by Gallup, was 45.7 percent for the month of October, up from 45.1 percent in September, and reflecting the highest percentage of Americans with good jobs since Gallup began daily tracking of U.S. employment in 2010.” Romney needed gloom and doom on the economy, but Obama got some rays of sunlight. 2) Romney’s momentum is maxing out. There was a moment after the first debate when it appeared as if he might have a legitimate shot at winning. He surged in the polls. His forlorn followers found their faith. There was hope for their candidate. Momentum begot momentum. But it peaked a couple of weeks ago, and evidence amassed that the momentum has evaporated. Even so, the Romney campaign seemed to believe it could stick with the momentum meme even after that momentum had stalled because it had been effective at rallying the troops. As The Times’s Nate Silver wrote Friday about arguments touting Romney’s chances in the election: “A third argument is that Mr. Romney has the momentum in the polls: whether or not he would win an election today, the argument goes, he is on a favorable trajectory that will allow him to win on Tuesday. This may be the worst of the arguments, in my view. It is contradicted by the evidence, simply put.” Silver averaged the national polls of likely voters in his database and found that “there is not much evidence of ‘momentum’ toward Mr. Romney. Instead, the case that the polls have moved slightly toward Mr. Obama is stronger.” That’s right, it is the Obama campaign that has the rightful claim to having momentum. 3) Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane devastated the Northeast, which also happens to be the media center of the country. This diverted people’s attention from the rancor of the campaign trail, and they saw Obama being presidential in his response to the storm. They also saw bipartisanship. Obama was embraced by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was the Republican National Convention keynote speaker. He won an endorsement from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, an independent. For his part, Romney transformed an Ohio rally into a “storm relief event.” 4) Truth and lies. Evidence continues to emerge that Romney is one of the most dishonest, duplicitous candidates to ever seek the presidency. He criticized Obama for telling then-President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with sensitive issues between the two countries after he won re-election. Romney said this was particularly troubling given that Russia “is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” However, according to a report on Friday in The New York Times, Romney’s son Matt recently traveled to Russia and delivered a message to President Vladimir Putin: “Mr. Romney told a Russian known to be able to deliver messages to Mr. Putin that despite the campaign rhetoric, his father wants good relations if he becomes president, according to a person informed about the conversation.” It sounds as though he was signaling that Mitt would do exactly what he had castigated Obama for: operate with “more flexibility” after the election. This is the kind of hypocrisy that just makes you shake your head in disbelief. According to a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, Americans expect Obama to be re-elected by 54 percent to 34 percent. Among those believing that Obama will win were most independents and almost a fifth of Republicans. I cast my lot with those folks unless there is a seismic shift in the next few days.

Obama assails Romney on Jeep ads in Ohio

President Obama kicked off the final weekend of his reelection campaign at a rally in Ohio, where he continued to slam Mitt Romney for claiming Jeep was sending jobs to China. At the first of his four campaign rallies Saturday, Obama said that Romney was not offering “real change,” and accused Romney of running misleading attacks with his campaign’s Jeep ads. “Changing the facts when they’re inconvenient to your campaign, that’s definitely not change,” Obama said at the rally in Mentor, Ohio. “But that’s what Gov. Romney’s been doing these last few weeks right here in Ohio.” The fight over Jeep jobs in the state has pushed the auto bailout to the center of the campaign in Ohio in the past week, as it shapes up to become the pivotal battleground in the presidential election.Romney seized on reports last month that Chrysler is planning to build Jeeps in China as a way to push back against Democratic attacks over his position on the auto bailout, and his campaign put ads up in Ohio on the China jobs. The Obama campaign has assailed Romney over the Jeep ads, saying the ads suggest U.S. jobs are being moved overseas when the China jobs are new. The Obama campaign released its own ad in Ohio saying Romney’s ad was false. Obama said Saturday that “everybody knows” Romney’s ads aren’t true, saying that “the car companies themselves told Gov. Romney knock it off.” “They don’t want this to become some political football in Gov. Romney’s TV ad,” Obama said. Obama has seen a polling advantage in Ohio in the past week, including a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Saturday that gave him a 51-to-45-percent advantage over Romney. The Real Clear Politics polling average gives Obama a 3-point edge in Ohio, at 49 to 46 percent. The state will see a flurry of campaign rallies in the final days. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, had a rally this morning in Ohio, and all four candidates will be back in Ohio on Sunday. After speaking in Ohio, Obama is headed to rallies in Wisconsin and Iowa Saturday before joining President Clinton at an event in Virginia in the evening. During his speech Saturday, Obama trotted out his “don’t boo, vote,” line once again, but did not mention “revenge” as he did Friday. His comment that voting was “the best revenge” at a rally Friday drew a rebuke from Romney and a new ad from his campaign assailing the remark.

VIDEO: President Obama Speaks at FEMA Headquarters

Obama and Romney tied three days before election

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney remain essentially tied in the race for the White House three days before the November 6 election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll released on Saturday. Of likely voters polled nationally, 47 percent said they would back Obama, the Democratic incumbent, while 46 percent said they would back Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. The results fall within the poll's credibility interval, a tool used to account for statistical variation in Internet-based polls. The two men have been locked in a tight race for weeks. Both are doing final swings in battleground states over the weekend, trying to sway a small group of remaining undecided voters and to encourage their supporters to get to the polls. The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval, which in this case is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for likely voters.

New job date gives Obama hopeful sign
U.S. employers stepped up hiring in October, creating more than 170-thousands jobs according to the latest data released by the Labor Department. And there was only a small increase in the jobless rate due to more workers restarting their job hunts. The data is seen as a hopeful sign for a lackluster US economy that has been a drag on President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. With the economy at the center of the campaign, the latest jobs figures were crucial for many who were still undecided. On Friday, the US Labor Department announced that the US added 171,000 jobs in October. The jobless rate at one time had peaked at 10 percent. Now it has edged up a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent, though that was due to workers surging back into the labor force, as only people who are looking for a job count as unemployed. The employment data issued on Friday is considered as the last major report card on the economy before Tuesday’s presidential election. Polls show US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney locked in a dead heat in a race that has centered on one major issue, job creation. President Obama said the report showed the US economy was moving in the right direction. Calling it "real progress", he talked to a rally in Hilliard, Ohio during the final days of his presidential campaign. Barack Obama, US President, said, "In 2008, we were in the middle of two wars and the worst economic crisis since the great depression. And today our businesses have created nearly five and a half million new jobs and this morning we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months." However, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the slight increase in the unemployment rate to 7.9 percent shows the economy continues to struggle. He argues that Obama’s policies have crushed the American economy and that the nation could have done better. Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, said, "Four years ago candidate Obama promised to do so very much but he’s fallen so very short. He said he was going to lower the unemployment rate down to 5.2 percent right now. Today we learned that it’s actually 7.9 percent and that’s nine million jobs short of what he promised. Unemployment is higher today than when Barack Obama took office. " Romney made the comments in a statement while campaigning in Wisconsin, one of the key battleground states. But some argue that the impact of the report on the Nov. 6 election could be muted as most voters’ perceptions on the economy are likely mostly fixed by now. With the stepped-up pace of job creation, the U.S. economy is still facing the real threat of a renewed recession probably next year. In front of the next US president, there is still a long way to go before a booming economy returns.

Obama's Weekly Address: Recovering and Rebuilding after the Storm

In this week's address, President Obama thanks the brave first responders and National Guardsmen for their tireless work following one of the worst storms in our nation's history, and reassures the millions of Americans affected by Hurricane Sandy that their country will be there for them during the long road to recovery.

Killings by Syrian rebels on video appear to be war crime: UN

The United Nations human rights office says a video that appears to show Syrian rebels killing soldiers who had surrendered, appears to constitute a war crime that should be prosecuted. The incident looks to be the latest atrocity committed by opposition fighters seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad. A disturbing scene posted on-line. Syrian rebels appear to be executing 28 government soldiers on Thursday, after attacking three army checkpoints around Saraqeb, a town on Syria’s main north-south highway. Video footage shows some of the dead were shot after they had surrendered. Rebels berated them, before appearing to fire round after round into their bodies as they lay on the ground. The UN’s human rights office said on Friday that the amateur video must be verified but it appears to constitute a war crime that should be investigated and prosecuted. Rupert Colville, Spokesperson, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, said, "We need to examine this carefully. It will be examined carefully, but the allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants. And therefore, at this point it looks very likely that this is a war crime, another one. There’s a lot of evidence for many of these crimes that have been taking place, this video, if it’s verified, if the details become a little clearer, could well be part of that evidence." Reports of serious human rights abuses by elements within the armed opposition have been on the rise. The latest footage, which has spread across the world, has dealt a further blow to the rebels’ image and is embarrassing their foreign supporters. Washington and its allies have been hesitant to give stronger support to the rebels in part because of worries over its multiple divisions and lack of organization. More than 32,000 people are estimated to have been killed since protests against President Bashar al-Assad first broke out last year and then degenerated into a full-scale civil war.

UNHRC urges Japan to give redress to WWII "comfort women"

The UN Human Rights Council has urged Japan to resolve the issue of the use of sexual slaves during the Second World War. This recommendation comes as part of the Universal Periodic Review to the Japanese delegation on the human rights condition in the country. The report includes recommendations for the Japanese government to act responsibly, and provide redress to the former "comfort women". It also asks the Japanese government to apologize to the victims. Although the recommendations in the UPR report are not legally binding, Japan must submit a refutation to the Human Rights Council’s assembly in March next year. The report was adopted after a UN regular investigation conference earlier in the week. Altogether seven countries, including China, South Korea, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea expressed their concerns over the comfort women during the investigation conference. The report gives more than 170 recommendations on gender inequality and the basic rights of women and children in Japan.

Chinese ambassador urges Japan to reflect on attitude to history

If Japan really wants to live in peace with its Asian neighbors, it should take a hard look at its attitude toward history and learn from Germany in this respect, says China's ambassador to Britain. In an article published on Friday's Financial Times, Liu Xiaoming noted that "Japan has never seriously reflected on its behavior during the Second World War." Senior Japanese officials often pay tribute to Yasukuni Shrine, where WWII war criminals are enshrined, and Japanese leaders' occasionally offered grudging apologies "have never convinced its neighbours," he said. "Worshipping war criminals is serious, but unjust territorial claims are dangerous," he added, referring to Japan's recent provocations over China's Diaoyu Islands. Abundant historical records show that Diaoyu Islands have been an integral part of China's territory for centuries, the ambassador said. The islands and Taiwan were seized by Japan during the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895. However, the Cairo Declaration signed by the leaders of China, Britain and the United States in 1943 stated in explicit terms: "All the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese" shall be restored to China. The recent tension between China and Japan is the result of the Japanese government's illegal "purchase" of Diaoyu Islands, he said, stressing that the friction is caused solely by Japan. In recent years, he said, Japan has taken calculated steps to strengthen the so-called "actual control" of Diaoyu Islands. The recent behavior of Japan gives China no option, and China has to respond and inhibit further Japanese escalation, he said. China's policies on Diaoyu Islands are aimed at safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they are lawful and justified, Liu said. "All facts point to one conclusion: It is Japan who is attempting to negate the outcome of the war against military fascism and defy postwar international order," he said. Citing Winston Churchill's words that "attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference," Liu urged Japan to take the quote to heart and learn from European actions, in particular postwar Germany. Related: Chinese envoy to Europe rejects Japan's latest Diaoyu claims BRUSSELS, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- Chinese ambassador to the European Union Wu Hailong has rejected Japan's latest claims over the Diaoyu Islands and warned against any attempt to deny history. In a recent article published by the weekly newspaper New Europe last week, Wu rejected the Japanese assertion a Chinese map published sometime over the last century supported their claim China never made sovereignty claims to the Diaoyu Islands before the 1970s.

Afghanistan: If US wants to win fight against Taliban, schools may be best investment

By: Faheem Younus
After watching the presidential debates, now watch the 2007 biographical drama, "Charlie Wilson’s War." It’s about the period when the United States was leaving Afghanistan after wrapping up its covert anti-Soviet operation there. Tom Hanks, who played the role of Congressman Charlie Wilson in the movie, pleaded with lawmakers, “One million dollars for school reconstruction….Did you hear me say? It was a million, not a billion, for a school construction?” This is what he got in return: “Nobody gives a [darn] about a school in Pakistan.” Or Afghanistan. Caution: A quarter century later, America is about to make the same mistake. President Obama and Mitt Romney have both pledged to leave Afghanistan by 2014. But neither discussed the importance of establishing schools for the children of a war torn nation where nearly half the population is under the age of 15. The recent Taliban assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani champion of girls' education, shows: The Taliban are most scared of books, not bombs. Establishing an educational infrastructure in Afghanistan is the most cost effective long-term strategy for grassroots change. The cost effectiveness could be shown in multiple ways. “For the cost of just one soldier in Afghanistan for one year, we could start about 20 schools,” said Nicholas Kristoff in a July 2010 column in The New York Times. Mr. Kristoff says Greg Mortenson, the author of “Three Cups of Tea,” told him that “for the cost of just 246 American soldiers in Afghanistan for a year, we could pay for a higher education plan for all Afghanistan.” Can you imagine the global impact of educating a tribal society over the next decade, all for less than 0.1 percent of our annual military spending? To be fair, the US government has made some strides. In December 2011, an Afghan version of “Sesame Street” – a program funded by the US State Department and produced in consultation with Afghanistan's Ministry of Education – was launched. Afghanistan has one of the highest proportions of school-age children in the world, yet less than half are in school. This leaves millions of young Afghans, mostly girls and women, vulnerable to poverty and Taliban influence. As the US withdraws its troops and the Taliban regain control – which they will in varying degrees – they are likely to enforce misogynistic policies with impunity and recruit 14-year olds for suicide bombings. Some will blame Islam itself for this inhumanity. But their reasoning doesn’t hold up. Why don’t American Muslims blow themselves up? Because they are educated. They have a good life. They have plans for tomorrow. For an Afghan kid, it’s different. About 12,000 Afghan civilians were killed just between 2007 and 2011. Their children are put in a position where they may be more easily recruited by the Taliban to fight in “God’s army against the infidel.” This army is funded in part by Saudi oil money to nurture the extremist Wahhabi and anti-western mindset in the religious madrassahs. In the 1980s, the Saudis matched America’s anti-communism budget of $500 million to uproot the Soviets in Afghanistan. Now, their motivations for funding the Taliban are different.Taliban have other help as well – notably from the Pakistani Army and many Pakistani politicians and religious parties. Recently, an ex-cricketer-turn-Pakistani-politician, Imran Khan, publicly gave legitimacy to their cause by declaring the Afghan conflict “a holy war” justified by Islamic law. Ignore this paradigm of support, and America’s decade-long gains will be washed away within a year. Before America leaves Afghanistan, Washington should pledge at least $1 billion to establish secular schools for boys and girls in Afghanistan. And policymakers should work with Islamabad to help fund and establish schools in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The funds should go toward hiring qualified teachers, developing standardized curricula, and constructing a robust infrastructure to support these schools, their staff, and their students. If armed protection for such schools is required, it should come from locally hired forces. Spent right, these dollars could achieve what counterinsurgency missions, bombers, and drones could not.

Afghanistan War: Kandahar Worries About Future As Foreigners Are Set To Go

By switching from studying business management to training as a nurse, 19-year-old Anita Taraky has placed a bet on the future of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar – that once foreign troops are gone, private-sector jobs will be fewer but nursing will always be in demand. Besides, if the Taliban militants recapture the southern Afghan city that was their movement's birthplace and from which they were expelled by U.S.-led forces 11 years ago, nursing will likely be one of the few professions left open to women. Taraky is one of thousands of Kandaharis who are weighing their options with the approaching departure of the U.S. and its coalition partners. But while she has opted to stay, businessman Esmatullah Khan is leaving. Khan, 29, made his living in property dealing and supplying services to the Western contingents operating in the city. Property prices are down, and business with foreigners is already shrinking, so he is pulling out, as are many others, he said. Many are driven by a certainty that the Taliban will return, and that there will be reprisals. "From our baker to our electrician to our plumber, everyone was engaged with the foreign troops and so they are all targets for the Taliban. And unless the government is much stronger, when the foreign troops leave, that is the end," Khan said. The stakes are high. Kandahar, Afghanistan's second city, is the southern counterweight to Kabul, the capital. Keeping Kandahar under central government control is critical to preventing the country from breaking apart into warring fiefdoms as it did in the 1990s. "Kandahar is the gate of Afghanistan," said Asan Noorzai, director of the provincial council. "If Kandahar is secure, the whole country is secure. If it is insecure, the whole country will soon be fighting." Even though Kandahar city has traffic jams and street hawkers to give it an atmosphere of normality, there are dozens of shuttered stores on the main commercial street, it's almost too easy to find a parking space these days, and shopkeepers are feeling the pinch.Dost Mohammad Nikzad said his profits from selling sweets have dropped by a half or more in the past year, to about $30 a day, and he has had to cut back on luxuries. He said that every month he would buy a new shalwar kameez, the tunic favored by Afghan men; now he buys one every other month. "I only go out to eat at a restaurant once a week. Before I would have gone multiple times a week," Nikzad said, as he stood behind his counter, waiting for customers to show. The measurements of violence levels contradict each other. On the one hand, many Kandaharis say things are better this year. On the other hand, the types of violence have changed and, to some minds, gotten worse. "Before, we were mostly worried about bomb blasts. Now ... we are afraid of worse things like assassinations and suicide attacks," said Gul Mohammad Stanakzai, 34, a bank cashier. Prying open the Taliban grip on Kandahar and its surrounding province has cost the lives of more than 400 international troops since 2001, and many more Afghans, including hundreds of public officials who have been assassinated by the Taliban. Kandahar province remains the most violent in the country, averaging more than five "security incidents" a day, according to independent monitors. In Kandahar city, suicide attacks have more than doubled so far this year compared with the same period of 2011, according to U.N. figures. "They are not fighting in the open the way they were before. Instead they are planting bombs and trying to get at us through the police and the army," said Qadim Patyal, the deputy provincial governor. The Taliban have said in official statements that they are focusing more on infiltrating Afghan and international forces to attack them. In the Kandahar governor's office, armed Afghan soldiers are barred from meetings with American officials lest they turn on them, Patyal said. And many point out that the "better security" is only relative. By all measures – attacks, bombings and civilian casualties – Kandahar is a much more violent city now than in 2008, before U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a troop surge. There are no statistics on how many people have left the city of 500,000, but people are fleeing the south more than any other part of the country, according to U.N. figures. About 32 percent of the approximately 397,000 people who were recorded as in-country refugees were fleeing violence in the south, according to U.N. figures from the end of May. The provincial government, which is supposed to fill the void left by the departing international forces, has suffered heavily from assassinations. It suffered a double blow in July last year with the killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of President Hamid Karzai who was seen as the man who made things work in Kandahar, and Ghulam Haider Hamidi, the mayor of the city. Now, Noorzai says, he can neither get the attention of ministers in Kabul nor trust city officials to do their jobs. He remembers 2001, when he and others traveled to the capital flying the Afghan flag which had just been reinstated in place of that of the ousted Taliban. "People were throwing flowers and money on our car, they were so happy to have the Afghan flag flying again," he said. "When we got power, what did we give them in return? Poverty, corruption, abuse." Mohammad Omer, Kandahar's current mayor, insists that if people are leaving the city, it is to return to villages they fled in previous years because now security has improved. Zulmai Hafez disagrees. He has felt like a marked man since his father went to work for the government three years ago, and is too frightened to return to his home in the Panjwai district outside Kandahar city. He refused to have his picture taken or to have a reporter to his home, instead meeting at the city's media center. "It's the Taliban who control the land, not the government," Hafez said. He notes that the government administrator for his district sold off half his land, saying he would not be able to protect the entire farm from insurgents. Many believe the previous mayor was murdered because he went after powerful land barons. Land reform is badly needed, and the mayor is angry about people who steal land, but he offers no solution. Kandahar only gets electricity about half the day. The mayor says it's up to the Western allies to fix that. But the foreign aid is sharply down. Aid coming to Kandahar province through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the largest donor, has fallen to $63 million this year from $161 million in 2011, according to U.S. Embassy figures. The mayor prefers to talk about investing in parks and planting trees. "I can't resolve the electricity problem, but at least I can provide a place in the city for people to relax," he said. The only people thinking long-term appear to be the Taliban. "The Americans are going and the Taliban need the people's support, so they are trying to avoid attacks that result in civilian casualties," said Noor Agha Mujahid, a member of the Taliban shadow government for Kandahar province, where he oversees operations in a rural district. "After 2014 ... it will not take a month to take every place back." One of the biggest worries is the fate of women who have made strides in business and politics since the ouster of the Taliban. "What will these women do?" asked Ehsanullah Ehsan, director of a center that trains more than 800 women a year in computers, English and business. It was at his center where Anita Taraky studied before switching to nursing. "Even if the Taliban don't come back, even if the international community just leaves, there will be fewer opportunities for women," he said. On the outskirts of the city stands one of the grandest projects of post-Taliban Kandahar – the gated community of Ayno Maina with tree-lined cement homes, wi-fi and rooftop satellite dishes. Khan, the departing businessman, says he bought bought 10 lots for $66,000 in Ayno Maina and has yet to sell any of them despite slashing the price, He recalled that when he first went to the project office it was packed with buyers. "Now it is full of empty houses. No one goes there," Khan said. Only about 15,000 of the 40,000 lots have been sold, and 2,400 homes built and occupied, according to Mahmood Karzai, one of the development's main backers and a brother of President Karzai. He argues, however, that prices are down all over Afghanistan, and that Ayno Maina is still viable, provided his brother gets serious about reform that will attract investors. "Afghanistan became a game," he said over lunch at the Ayno Maina office. "The game is to make money and get the hell out of here. That goes for politicians. That goes for contractors." He shrugged off allegations that he skimmed money from Ayno Maina, saying the claims were started by competitors in Kabul who assume everyone who is building something in Afghanistan is also stealing money. He said the money went where it was needed: to Western-style building standards and security. In downtown Kandahar, a deserted park and Ferris wheel serve as another reminder of thwarted hopes. Built in the mid-2000s, the wheel has been idle for two years according to a guard, Abdullah Jan Samad. It isn't broken, he said, it just needs electricity. A major U.S.-funded project to get reliable electricity to the city has floundered and generators that were supposed to provide a temporary solution only operate part-time because of fuel shortages. "The government should be paying for maintenance for the Ferris wheel," the guard said. "When you build something you should also make sure to maintain it."

Pakistan to honor girls injured in Malala attack

Two Pakistani girls who were injured in an attack that nearly took the life of their classmate, schoolgirl activist Malala Yousufzai, are to be honored with a medal of courage, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Saturday. Kainat Riaz Ahmed and Shazia Ramzan were both hurt in the ambush on October 9, when armed thugs stopped their school van in the Taliban-held Swat Valley. The medal, known as Sitara-e- jurrat, or star of courage, is the third highest military award in Pakistan and is not normally given to civilians. The militants' target, Malala, was well-known for her efforts to encourage her fellow Pakistanis to stand up to the Taliban, who have been trying to push girls from classrooms. The attack prompted anger against the Taliban and an outpouring of support for Malala, both in Pakistan, where thousands rallied in her name, and internationally. Speaking to CNN from her hospital bed a week after the attack, Kainat, who was shot in the upper right arm, echoed Malala's message. "I want to tell all the girls to continue their mission to get an education," Kainat told CNN. "Girls' education here is more important than boys' because boys can do any sort of work. However, girls can't just do any sort of job. Girls must have respectful jobs so that they can feel secure." And the 16-year-old said she had no regrets about defying a group that wants to stop girls from learning. "God willing, I will continue my education," she said. On Monday, Malik visited the British hospital where Malala was flown for treatment days after she was shot in the head. She has made good progress since her transfer, but medical staff have said she has a long road ahead to a full recovery. She is expected to undergo reconstructive surgery to her skull once she is strong enough. Malik said he hoped Malala would recover soon and that her family would support her in this difficult time. The family is not settling in the United Kingdom but remains there while Malala is recovering, he added. Malik said Saturday that the government was very close to catching Ihsanullah Ihsan, the spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban. The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack, issued a statement online saying that if Malala lived, they would come after her again. Police said this week they suspect two boys of being behind the attack but did not name them. They are also seeking a man they say drove the youths to the van. Malik identified the adult suspect as Attah Ullah Khan, 23, but he did not name the boys. Khan is a masters' chemistry student, police said.

President Zardari: Don’t just brief, do something practical

Taking serious notice of the target killings and growing extortion incidents in Karachi,
President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday asked the provincial government and law enforcement agencies not to give him a briefing on the situation but rather they should take some practical steps to curb crimes. He also said that the inefficient officials of the law enforcement agencies should be shown the door and instead dedicated and capable officials should be posted so that the law and order situation in the port city could be improved. He advised the Sindh government to consult its coalition partners for legislation to control technology-related crimes and protect witnesses and victims’ families.He also directed the provincial administration to take action against the officials of the law enforcement agencies if they failed to control law and order their areas. He also called explanations’ about the performance of the law enforcement agencies anddirected the authorities to post competent officers of the law enforcement agencies to curb crimes. The president emphasised that the maintenance of law and order was the shared responsibility of all the political forces and concerted efforts should be made by all to ensure peace in the metropolis. The president expressed concern over the increase in the crimes in the provincial capital in a high level meeting held to review the law and order situation in Sindh, particularly in Karachi. Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik briefed him about the situation. After the meeting, Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar told the media that the president had taken serious notice of the use of mobile phones by the militants and criminals and directed the Sindh government to work out a plan so that no SIMs could be delivered to the retail shops and the outlets of mobile companies. He said that the arrangements should be made to post the SIMs to the addresses of the applicant as mentioned in their Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC). The president directed the federal interior minister to frame a draft policy in this regard for the approval of the cabinet. Sources said that the political and related crimes and the release of criminals on parole also came under discussion in the meeting and the president advised the Sindh Law Minister to work on suitable legislation, in consultation with all the stakeholders, for the protection of the witnesses, victims and their families. He observed that one of the reasons hindering effective prosecution was that the witnesses backed out due to fear and insecurity. He advised the government to study the model of witness protection laws adopted in other countries in the wake of rising militant activities. On the proliferation of the arms and ammunition in Karachi, the president observed that arms licences should be Smart Card-based to ensure that no fake licences were issued.It was also directed to the provincial government that no effort should be spared in ensuring law and order and no discrimination should be made in doing justice with law violators. He said that maintaining law and order and ensuring safety and security of the citizen was the prime responsibility of the government and all efforts should be taken in this regard. Asif Ali Zardari was informed about the details of the target killing in which hundreds of the persons had been killed in political, ethnic and sectarian crimes in the last four years. The president directed the authorities to continue targeted action against the criminals without any discrimination. Spokesman further said tat the president chaired three more separate meetings at CM House regarding the establishment of state-of-the-art kidney and liver centre in Islamabad, increasing the number of merit-based as well as other seats for rural Sindh in the Sindh Medical University, and also laid the foundation stone of the housing society for the Civil Service Academy Alumni, Sindh Chapter.

PPP to form Punjab govt after defeating PML-N

Pakistan People’s Party Punjab President and Federal Minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Manzoor Wattoo on Friday said the PPP will form the next Punjab government by defeating the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the support of its coalition partners. Addressing a luncheon arranged in the honor of journalists at a local hotel, Wattoo said there were no differences between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), while adding that mutual discussion for seat adjustment with the PML-Q for the general elections was in progress. He said President Asif Ali Zardari always followed the code of conduct and the party would finalize a strategy about the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) directions for the president regarding his political activities. Wattoo said the party workers welcomed him warmly while the opposition was confused about his nomination as PPP Punjab president. He said he would never respond to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah or the Sharif brothers as he believed in the continuity of democracy in the country. He also welcomed positive criticism from the media on political parties and the governments. Criticizing the Punjab government on constructing metro bus system, he said the provincial government had spent Rs 70 billion on one road and had completely ignored the destroyed road network across the province. He said it was the responsibility of the provincial government to look after health, transport and education systems, but it seemed that every department had to be overhauled after failing on several occasions. He appealed to the Supreme Court (SC) to take suo motu notice of such programs which were against public interest including spending of Rs 70 billion on a single project in the provincial capital. The minister said that the PPP was the only party which had sacrificed lives for democracy. He said the PPP was the only representative party of workers and labor class in the country. He further said price control was the responsibility of the provincial government and it had so far failed to control the prices of basic commodities. Wattoo said the PPP was supporting millions of families without any discretion through the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). To a question, he said the PPP was ready to finalize the accountability bill, but the PML-N was not sitting down with the PPP to resolve the issue. To another question, he said the government would take a decision based on the statement of the PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif in which he had accepted the Federal Investigating Agency’s (FIA) role in the investigation. PPP Punjab General Secretary Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, former secretary general Azizur Rehman Chan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Aslam Gill and PPP Lahore General Secretary Zekria Butt were also present.

No end in sight to Pakistan's blasphemy laws

Pakistani activists say they have lost hope in the government to reform the Islamic country's controversial laws in the wake of an attack on a girls' school over alleged blasphemy. A mob of more than 200 people set fire to a girls' school in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday on accusations that one of the teachers of the school distributed "blasphemous" material to her sixth grade students. Pakistani police are trying to trace the teacher of the Farooqi High School who has apparently gone into hiding. Police officer Azam Manhais told the media that the 76-year-old Asim Farooqi, owner of the school, had been arrested on blasphemy charges.At least one person was injured during the clash between the protesters and the police around the school. Pakistani authorities say they have filed a police report against “unknown assailants” for attacking the school. According to the local media, the protesters mostly belonged to religious parties and Islamist groups, including the outlawed Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The Pakistani police, however, did not confirm this. According to the initial reports, Arfa Iftikhar, one of the teachers of the girls' school, had given an assignment to her sixth grade students about an essay on the Koran - the holy book of Islam - which allegedly carried derogatory remarks about the religion's prophet. "Our school management and the owners have no link whatsoever with this dirty act," said an advertisementin Urdu, which the school management took out in two leading newspapers on Friday. "We appeal to the government and the police to take legal action against this teacher and investigate her real motive." Controversial legislation Blasphemy, or the insult of Prophet Mohammad, is a sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of its 180 million people are Muslims. Rights activist demand the reforms of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas.The controversial laws came under stark criticism in August when Rimsha Masih, a teenage Christian Pakistani girl, was accused of blasphemy and spent several weeks in jail. Masih, who lived in the Mehrabadi town near capital Islamabad, was accused of burning pages containing verses of the Koran. The police later found out that the cleric Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti from Masih's town had planted the pages. The number of blasphemy cases in Pakistan has increased manifold in recent years. Pakistan's liberal sections are alarmed by the growing influence of right-wing Islamists in their country and blame the authorities for patronizing them. Rights organizations also point to the legal discrimination against minorities in Pakistan, which, in their opinion, is one the major causes of the maltreatment of Pakistani minority groups. “The anti-blasphemy laws should be abolished because they have nothing to do with Islam," Mohsin Sayeed, a Karachi-based journalist, told DW. "We have been demanding their repeal for a long time. This demand has sparked a fierce reaction from religious extremists." Personal scores: Hussain Naqi, a veteran human rights activist and official of Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission (HRCP) in Lahore, told DW that blasphemy laws were mostly used against the majority Muslims.
"The so-called blasphemy cases are mostly about personal issues," Naqi said. "In Pakistan, it is very easy for people who want to settle scores with their enemies to accuse them of blasphemy. They know that there are immediate arrests in blasphemy cases, and sometimes people are killed on the spot." Naqi criticized the provincial authorities for not taking precautionary measures to protect the school. "The authorities knew that there could be a backlash after the reports about the alleged blasphemy case came out on Wednesday, but they did not take any steps in advance to deal with it." He added that it was the responsibility of the state authorities to make sure that the principal of the school was treated well because a person was innocent until proven guilty. The dilemma President Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government has recently come under sharp criticism from the country's rights organizations and the West for refusing to reform the blasphemy laws despite the assassinations of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian cabinet minister, and Salman Taseer, the former governor of the Punjab province. The two politicians were brutally murdered by Islamists in 2011 because they had dared to speak out against the controversial laws.Naqi said that he did not expect the incumbent PPP government to reform or repeal the laws. "The PPP is an opportunistic party. People vote them into power because they do not like the religious parties, but instead of confronting the Islamists, the PPP bows down to them," Naqi commented, adding that most people in Pakistan did not approve of religious extremism. But Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed believed that what used to be a small section of society had now become mainstream. "The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hatemongers and bigots who commit such crimes. Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society," said Sayeed, adding that those who condemned such "barbaric crimes" were now a minority in Pakistan. Farooq Sulehria, a London-based activist and journalist, told DW that although “it is difficult to empirically assert," there was no doubt that there was more intolerance in Pakistani society than before. “Most Muslim countries do not have blasphemy laws,” Naqi said, adding sarcastically that it seemed that only Pakistan had blasphemers and Pakistan was the only country in the entire Muslim world which seemed to be worried about it.

Pakistan 'Blasphemy' Teacher In Hiding

A Pakistani teacher at the center of a blasphemy dispute has been forced into hiding after a furious mob stormed a girls' high school in the eastern city of Lahore.
Pakistani students of Farooqi Girls' High School wave placards as they stage a protest in Lahore on November 3, demanding the reopening of their school after it was set on fire by an angry mob.
The mob was angry at a homework assignment that Arfa Iftikhar assigned that allegedly contained derogatory references to the Prophet Muhammad. Her school management denied all responsibility for the "dirty act" and called for her to be punished. The school said Iftikhar had been fired, despite telling the principal she had copied the offending passage by mistake. However, school headmaster Asim Farooqi has been remanded in custody for 14 days on charges of blasphemy, which can result in the death penalty. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

Suicide bomber kills 6 people in NW Pakistan

Associated Press
A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up near a vehicle carrying the regional head of a government-allied militia in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing him and five others, police and the militant group said. Senior police officer Akhtar Hayyat said several people were also wounded in the blast near a gas station in the district of Buner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He said Fateh Khan, the head of the local anti-Taliban militia, was killed along with three guards and two passers-by. Khan was also a prominent leader of the secular Awami National Party, which rules the coalition government in the province, and which has angered the Taliban by supporting several military offensives in tribal districts and in the towns. Shortly after the attack, Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility by telephone for the killing of Khan. Buner is believed to be a hiding place for the Pakistani Taliban. It is located near the Swat Valley, where the insurgent group shot and wounded 15-year-old education activist Malala Yousufzai last month for criticizing its behavior when it seized the isolated region in 2008. An offensive by the military broke the Taliban's control over the area in 2009, but attacks have continued.

Punjab University: Blind girl student denied hostel room

Ms Sonia Amjad, a regular blind girl student of Islamic Studies Department Punjab University, despite availability, is being denied the facility of room hostel. While talking to APP here Friday, she alleged that she personally met girls hostel No 4 Superintendent Ms Nabila Rehman who kept her allotment application dully strongly recommended by the head of the department for more than two weeks without any justification. The aggrieved blind student further alleged that she met Chairman Hall Council Prof Dr. Muhamamd Akhtar before Eid Ul Azha who directed the hostel Superintendent and even then she is not ready to accommodate her. Sonia who hails from Okara said that VC PU Prof Mujahid Kamran on February, 9 last in an epoch making decision, notified same day waived of all admission dues,exam fees and hostel dues for all special students upto PhD besides special scholarships. She said that \"I do not know why despite clear cut notification of PU,she is being deprived of room\" and made an impassioned appeal to Chief Minister Punjab and VC PU to intervene into the matter and help redress her genuine grievance on priority.

Pakistan: SC takes serious notice of Taliban presence in Karachi

Radio Pakistan
Supreme Court has said‚ the foreigners living in Karachi without documents should immediately be expelled
The Supreme Court in its interim order on the law and order situation in Karachi has directed the concerned authorities to take serious notice of the presence of the Taliban in the city. It said that the foreigners living in Karachi without documents should immediately be expelled. The interim order said that those who had been released on parole should be arrested and presented to the courts. The interim order directed the Police to take immediate action against the illegal foreigners living in the city. The Supreme Court directed that all the weapons should be taken back from the armed groups. The interim order said that traffic problem has turned serious in Karachi and action should be taken against the owners plying vehicles without number plates. It also directed that the armed license system should be computerized.

Pakistan: People can’t be deprived of right to elect govt

Deposed prime minister and PPP senior vice chairman Yusuf Raza Gilani said on Friday no individual or institution should be empowered to snatch the right to elect their government from the people, no matter what kind of rulers they choose for themselves. “There is no room for martial law now after we withdrew presidential powers under Article 58-2(b) to abolish an elected government and assemblies, and we won’t allow any other institution to assume those powers,” he said replying to a question about the SC ruling on Balochistan government. He was addressing the “Guest of Honour” programme at Lahore Press Club on Friday. When asked whether the chance to resolve the issue of Swiss court letter, which led to his disqualification as the PM and MNA, should have been given to him in the first place to save him from disqualification, Gilani said both the sides had now agreed that the president enjoyed immunity which actually vindicated his stance under which he had refused to write the letter. About multiple issues plaguing Karachi, Gilani also referred to the demand of Pakistan Muslim League-N that nobody having dual nationality should be allowed to lead a political party, and said such demands could lead the country towards chaos since it was the exclusive right of the people to choose their leaders and representatives. He said whether it was Balochistan or any other province, there was no room for such adventurism which curtail the rights of the people. Gilani stressed that by restoring the Constitution to its original state, the PPP had wanted that every institution of the state should act within its ambit and never trespass on others’. He said by appearing before the Supreme Court, he had removed the impression that the PPP had disrespect for the Constitution, and now his son had also upheld the respect for the apex court. To a question about why the issue of creating southern Punjab province died down after his dismissal, Gilani said: “It is one of the main reasons I am sitting here now. There are certain powers which are against creating this province.” When asked if such province should not be created in Sindh, Gilani said: “These issues are not the same. An impression is being created by certain powers that separatists elements are working in Sindh, but I assure everybody that there is no separatism working in Sindh. Whereas, the demand for southern Punjab province was an old one, arising out of the deep sense of deprivation among the people and enshrined in every political party’s manifesto and electoral promises of every leader.” Gilani parried when asked why the media and the government had not raised the issue of unjust incarceration of Dr Aafia Siddiqi in the US, as against the hue and cry made over the attack over Malala Yousafzai. He said we had worked hard to establish bilateral relations with all states and neighbours on the basis of equality and respect of our sovereignty. “We had raised the issue of Dr Aafia and I also provided her a lawyer, and I consider her as our daughter,” he said. Gilani disagreed with a questioner who had suggested that his relations with President Zardari were not as warm as in the past. Senior PPP leader and chairman Evacuee Trust Property Board, Syed Asif Hashmi was also accompanying Gilani. Lahore Press Club President Arshad Ansari expressed gratitude for Yusuf Raza Gilani for donating Rs10 million for renovation of the club and Gilani formally inaugurated the new look club at his arrival. Ansari also praised Asif Hashmi for assisting the club in hosting the conference of Pak-India media persons and other projects of the club.

PAKISTAN: The stereo-type statement of the foreign minister

In the second round of the 14th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the foreign minister of Pakistan, Ms Hina Rabbani Khar presented Pakistan's national report on promotion and protection and mentioned that Pakistan staunchly supported the promotion and application of human rights universally. She added that establishing the National Commission on Human Rights and passing bills for women and children rights was a remarkable move made by the government. Government of Pakistan's Stand: Pakistan's foreign minister Ms. HRK concludes her 54 bullet point speech with the following passage. "We are mindful that the promotion and protection of human rights is a continuous process that must be reinforced by strengthening democratic institutions with the support of civil society and media. At the same time, we are also aware of the challenges that we face in the realm of human rights. But these challenges are not due to discriminatory government policies or lack of commitment to protect and uphold human rights. The government and people of Pakistan remain committed to democracy, freedom, justice and the rule of law. We remain committed also to vigorously protecting and promoting human rights of our people as well as fulfilling our all international obligations including on human rights." Response of International Community, HR bodies and Diaspora Forums: This stereo-type statement was more than a laughing stock for those people, forums, organizations and states who have been thoroughly reviewing the worst human rights situation in Pakistan at state level. Leading international reports on HR including the Asian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch have termed the running 2012 year 'disastrous' for religious and ethnic minorities, weak and vulnerable groups and marginalized communities of the country. The reports revealed the facts that the there was a rapid increase in religious extremism and fundamentalism, increase in the cases of blasphemy, forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam, increasing militant attacks on progressive and secular civilians, increase in poverty due to privatization and corporatization of state owned public utility institutions, millions of people are homeless, under severe food insecurity crisis due to floods and rapid rise in inflation. On the other hand military and intelligence agencies have a strong control over security and political affairs and the democratic government is weak on the issues of enforced disappearance of political workers and failed to stop the killing of those people who are raising their voice for freedom especially in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan. Those HR organizations and individuals who attended the 14th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council in Geneva have countered the tall claims and rosy facts presented by Pakistan's FM and said that in Pakistan religious minorities were persecuted, that dissent was often brutally suppressed by the army, and that little was done to tackle human trafficking. HR defenders from Pakistan said that the shooting by Islamic radicals of Mallala, a girl educational activist and riots against Christians, Ahmedis, Hindus and Dalit are open secrets of Government non-compliance of international code of protection of HR of all citizens of Pakistan without any prejudice. During HRK's presentation, delegations of some Western countries and international HR bodies including World Sindhi Congress (WSC) and World Sindhi Institute (WSI) (leading Diaspora HR and political think tanks prompting the right of self determination of Sindh and Baloch people) have shown serious concerns about the human rights situation in Pakistan including army operations, aimed at silencing dissent in the rebellious province of Baluchistan and demanded that Pakistan should ensure that those guilty of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings must be prosecuted, while laws often used to justify discrimination against religious minorities should be reformed. Some speak about the misuse of blasphemy law by some vested interest groups, which provides for a range of harsh penalties up to execution for any act deemed to offend against Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Reaction of Civil Society of Pakistan: On the other hand over a dozen CSOs and networks in Pakistan working on HR issues have issued a joint statement as a rejoinder to the official report and said that they are deeply disappointed to read the government's version of the state of human rights in Pakistan. "It’s a glossy document that does not reflect the ground realities at all. Instead of presenting the true picture of the status of human rights in the country and sharing an action plan to face the challenges, the government has relied on the old bureaucracy rhetoric of 'all's well' and 'we remain committed'. This may never help to address the blatant violations of human rights taking place in everyday life in the country." This report supported by the entire civil society forums, alliances, and organizations of Pakistan concluded it CSOs report with the following remark "The State report overlooks fundamental rights violations in the everyday lives of the citizens. There needs to be stronger commitment for protection of human rights in Pakistan accompanied with measureable action plan to address the existing gaps in legislative and law enforcement order of the country and in the political will of the state itself." List of HR Challenges during January 2012- to date:- External issues: Hostile Relationship with neighbouring countries including Afghanistan, Iran, India on cross-border terrorism and import of religious militancy and fundamentalism Internal Crises: • Military Operation in Baluchistan • Religious Minorities (persecution of Christians, forced conversion of Hindu girls, migration of Hindus from Sindh, sponsored targeted persecution of Ahmadis) • Women’s Rights • Militant Attacks and Counterterrorism (Suicide bombings, armed attacks, and killings by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their affiliates targeted nearly every sector of Pakistani society, including journalists and religious minorities, resulting in hundreds of deaths.) • Over Weaponization and Ethnic Terrorists Outfits in Karachi • Freedom of Media • Disappearance of Political Leaders and Workers of Sindh and Baluchistan Conclusion: It was Pakistan's second review since the council was set up in 2006 and the report comes at a time when it has been under severe criticism by Pakistan based HR bodies over the gross violation of human rights in the country. This report is presented at the time when the international community is concerned over the militarization of the state and increase in religious extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism. The feedback of HR bodies has exposed Pakistan's position and it comes at a time when Pakistan is planning and hoping to be appointed as a candidate of Asian countries to full membership of the council. Pakistan is already an official voice of the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). If this state of affairs continues Pakistan may not be treated as a suitable candidate failed to head off a clear majority vote for its membership in the UN General Assembly on November 12, 2012.

UN HR Council asks Pakistan to remove Internet censorship

As part of a review of Pakistan's human rights standing, the Netherlands has recommended that the country removes restrictions on Internet access. The recommendation is part of a draft report of the UN Human Rights Council working group on the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan. In the draft report, the working group has listed this demand along with 163 other recommendations on the country's rights record. According to the Express Tribune, video sharing site, YouTube, has also been suspended in Pakistan since September 17, 2012. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ordered the ban over a blasphemous movie trailer mocking Prophet Mohammad that incited protests around the world. Pakistan will have to respond to the recommendations by March 2013 at the 22nd session of the Council. "It is a great opportunity as it is now part of UN Human Rights Council's recommendations to the government and we can continue to build pressure on the government to do better on net freedom in the country," Shahzad Ahmad from Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan, a human rights organisation that focuses on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for social justice and development in the country, said. "This is first time ever that a shadow report on internet rights in Pakistan was submitted and a UN member state picked it up and put it as a recommendation for the government to improve internet rights in the country," he wrote to The Express Tribune in an email from Geneva. According to the report, Netherlands made the recommendation that Pakistan: "(r)emove restrictions on accessing internet in the country, which runs counter to the criteria of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and the principle of proportionality."