Sunday, November 18, 2012

Southeast Asia adopts human rights declaration

Associated Press
Southeast Asian leaders on Sunday adopted a human rights declaration despite last-minute calls for a postponement by critics, including Washington, who said the pact contains loopholes that could allow atrocities to continue. The 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an unwieldy bloc of liberal democracies and authoritarian states, signed a document adopting the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, where the heads of state were holding an annual summit. The nonbinding declaration calls for an end to torture, arbitrary arrests and other rights violations that have been longtime concerns in Southeast Asia, which rights activists once derisively described as being ruled by a "club of dictators." ASEAN diplomats have called the declaration a milestone in the region despite its imperfections, saying it will help cement democratic reforms in countries such as Myanmar, which until recently has been widely condemned for its human rights record. Philippine diplomat Rosario Manalo said it is significant that the region's less democratic governments have embraced the declaration. Founded in 1967 as an anti-communist bloc in the Cold War era, ASEAN has taken feeble steps to address human rights concerns in the vast region of 600 million people, adopting a charter in 2007 where it committed to uphold international law and human rights but retained a bedrock principle of not interfering in each other's internal affairs — a loophole that critics say helps member states commit abuses without consequence. In 2009, the group unveiled a commission that was tasked to promote human rights but deprived of power to investigate violations or go after abusers. ASEAN leaders committed to promote and protect human rights, along with "democracy, rule of law and good governance" in a joint statement they signed to launch the declaration. But provisions in the declaration say rights could be limited for reasons of security, public order and morality. It adds that the "realization of human rights must be considered in the regional and national context bearing in mind different political, economic, legal, social, cultural, historical and religious backgrounds." Rights groups say that such conditions could be used to justify violations. "ASEAN has finally stumbled across the finish line with a flawed declaration that falls short of international standards," said Phil Robertson of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Washington has also expressed concerns, along with ASEAN members Indonesia and the Philippines, which threatened to withhold support until the regional bloc agreed to add a paragraph where it pledged to enforce the declaration with a level of commitment accorded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, diplomats said. The ASEAN decides by consensus, meaning that if just one country disapproved, the declaration's launching would have been scuttled. That could have been embarrassing for the regional grouping still struggling to repair the damage to its image after its last ministerial meeting in July collapsed due to infighting over the handling of South China Sea territorial disputes. Myanmar's top diplomat, Wunna Maung Lwin, told The Associated Press that his country welcomes the declaration and will abide by it. "It's a very significant step that has been taken by the ASEAN," he said. ___

Zardari to address KP assembly on Monday

President Asif Ali Zardari will address the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly’s session on Monday.
President Zardari would be the first President, who would be addressing a provincial assembly session on the invitation of the chief minister and speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. KP assembly session has been scheduled at 10.00am on Monday, while the president will address at 2.00pm.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik,'' Blaming parliament''

Interior Minister Rehman Malik had a bad hair day on Friday. First, his order banning motorcycle riding and suspension of cellular phone services in Karachi and Quetta ran into heavy criticism by the public. Then the Sindh High Court (SHC) overturned the ban on motorcycle riding on the grounds that this would have inconvenienced millions of commuters. The cellular phone suspension in the two cities lasted about 10 hours and was then gradually lifted. Appearing in both houses of parliament on the day, the interior minister showed his frustration by lashing out at parliament for having failed to bring in legislation to help the counter-terrorism effort. An amendment bill to the Anti-Terrorism Act, the minister argued, had been lying in parliament for three years but nothing had come out of it. Rehman Malik said his decision was taken after intelligence reports indicated the threat of terrorist actions on Friday, the first day of Muharram. He said he had consulted all the stakeholders, including the Sindh government and the prime minister before imposing the restrictions. He went on to point out that 96 blasts in Karachi and 438 throughout the country during this year had used motorcycles as bombs, apart from the use of mobile phones as detonators. According to the SHC’s order, the ban on motorcycle riding per se was unconstitutional, but the court upheld the ban on pillion riding. The minister faced dissent from his own party’s Senators Babar Awan and Raza Rabbani in the upper house. The gist of their objections was legal and constitutional, but Raza Rabbani’s criticism also included the argument that no viable counter-terrorism strategy had been framed to date. The minister on the other hand referred to the lacunae in the laws that allowed terrorists caught and presented before the courts to walk free or on bail to carry on their nefarious activities. He vowed to go in appeal to the Supreme Court against the SHC’s order. There were claims from the Sindh police that Karachi was peaceful because of the ban on motorcycle riding and suspension of cellular services, but this is not conclusive, and does not negate the inconvenience to citizens and the losses suffered (once again) by the cellular service providers. The minister’s obvious frustration and irritation aside, one can sympathise with the arduous task he has on his plate. Decades of encouragement of jihadi extremists, initially for projection of power in the neighbourhood, has backfired spectacularly in recent years by subjecting the mentor state to the unwanted (violent) attentions of the jihadi extremist groups of all shades and hues. Not only do some if not all these groups enjoy support from the insurgents waging guerrilla warfare in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by now they have a network spread throughout the length and breath of the country, especially the big cities. Combating this malign presence is never going to be easy. The lacunae in the laws pointed out by Rehman Malik and the lack of witness protection programmes undermine the counter-terrorism effort, as does the lack of an overarching intelligence/counter-terrorism body that can pool all the information and data scattered over many agencies, military and civilian, and coordinate actions against a shadowy and elusive enemy. But there is also weight in the PPP and other legislators’ objections to blunt tools such as blanket bans on this or that means of transport and/or communications. Whatever temporary results this kind of action may bring, and that too is open to dispute, it should not be forgotten that the terrorists by now have many more means of delivering death and destruction than just motorcycles and cell phones. Blunt instruments have to be replaced by far more focused and targeted intelligence-based pre-emptive actions against the terrorists. A case in point is the arrest, with weapons and explosives, of two sectarian terrorists in Gujrat on Friday. This is the kind of intelligence-based action that may go much further in combating terrorism than blanket bans that are at best temporary palliatives and of course a source of great nuisance to the public.

Dr. Muhammad Azam Azam laid to rest

Radio Pakistan
Renowned Pushto poet and research scholar Dr. Muhammad Azam Azam was laid to rest at his ancestral graveyard at Rajarr Renowned Pushto poet and research scholar Dr. Muhammad Azam Azam was laid to rest at his ancestral graveyard at Rajarr in district Charsadda on Saturday.
Dr. Muhammad Azam Azam
Soft-spoken Prof Dr Mohammad Azam Azam, the author of no less than 11 books, is a man with an unassuming personality. He has been rendering meritorious services to Pashto language and literature for the last 45 years. Dr Azam is a distinguished writer known for his individual and unique style, and for having introduced and contributed to modern literary trends both in substance and style in Pashto prose as well as poetry. He enjoys mass popularity and unprecedented fame among common folk, literary and cultural circles for his landmark achievements. Radio Pakistan Peshawar and PTV’s Peshawar Centre have aired more than 500 songs and ghazals by Dr Azam that have gained tremendous popularity due to their lucidity and mass appeal. He is also considered to be a trend setter in Pashto drama, on both radio and television.Birth December 21, 1940 Place of birth: District Charsadda, village Rajar, Khybar Pakhtunkhwa Education: PhD in Pashto literature Career Appointed as lecturer of Pashto at Islamia College, Peshawar in 1963 and also served as chairman Pashto Department University of Peshawar and Dean of Faculty of Oriental Languages. He retired on December 20, 2000 and took charge of the Academy of Letters Pakistan, Islamabad, as regional director Peshawar chapter in August, 2006. Important Books Pashto Afsana Tahqeeq Auo Tanqeed Pashto Adab Ke Kerdarnigaaree Lashey Rahman Baba Da Ulas Shair Pukhtanee Romanoonah Da Aqidat Guloona Andazoonah In several of his memorable plays Dr Azam has portrayed a true picture of Pashtun culture and society. “Unless a playwright delves deep into the people’s problems, s/he fails to depict the real picture of society. To me a writer and poet is the spirit of the age s/he lives in. Pashto drama seems to be on decline because of lack of observation and artificial presentation”. At the inception of PTV’s Peshawar Centre in 1974, he wrote the first ever Pashto TV serial ‘Rukey laarey’ (The lost paths) which provided a firm foundation for PTV drama in the Frontier. His most popular play ‘Namoos’ — in both its Pashto and Urdu versions — won accolades for PTV. According to a prominent poet, researcher, linguist, critic and fiction writer Qalandar Momand, Dr Azam is at the top list of modern Pashto poets and playwrights. As for his poetry, Dr Azam claims to be inspired by the progressive writer’s movement. “I am impressed by Ajmal Khattak’s poems and by the ghazals of Amir Hamza Khan Shinwarai because both of them are voices of masses, one delineates the social life of Pashtuns while the other appeals to their spiritual and national identity. I had started composing poetry during my school days. At Islamia College Peshawar, I was on the editorial board of the literary journal Khyber. “I have a penchant for music and can play the sitar therefore there is a musical quality in my poetry, but I stress on its social and thematic aspect. The poet should always say something new and touching. Digesting the same old stuff robs one’s art of its originality. I did not publish my poetry in book form because I thought there is an intense need for prose but now I am planning to bring it out under the Rungoonah on the request of my fans. Young Pashtun poets have introduced new subjects and there is still need for more experiment. Poetry is a vehicle available to be exploited for people’s welfare. It is both a means of instruction and a delight. Pashto poetry has an immense future”, Dr Azam concludes hopefully. Along with his creative literary pursuits Dr Azam has also presented invaluable services in the field of research. He has published numerous treatises, research articles and critical essays. Among all of his research works, his celebrated investigative prose work Pashto Afsana: Tahqeeq Auo Tanqeed is the first ever book on the subject. The book has been included in the MA course for Pashto literature. His PhD thesis titled “The art of characterization in Pashto literature” is considered to be of high literary worth. “Some Afghan scholars affiliated with Pashto Tolana in Kabul did valuable research on Pashto language and literature before the Russian invasion but nowadays research on scientific lines in Afghanistan is a farfetched notion. Also, writers there have become divided into various ‘groups’ which I believe is a bad omen for promoting healthy literary trends. Ulasi Adabi Jirga is a popular literary organisation founded by Hamza Baba, Dost Mohammad Khan Kamil, Qalandar Momand and other poets, writers and researchers in the early half of the 20th century. They helped to introduce new literary trends in Pashto literature. Men of letters like Haji Sanobar Hussain Kakajee, Fazal Mahmood Makhfi, Abdul Akbar Khan Akbar, Ghani Khan, Ashraf Maftoon, Master Abdul Karim Mazloom and Mir Mehdi Shah Bacha, under the influence of Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgaar Movement, gave a social awareness and political consciousness to the masses through their inspiring writings”. Awards Adamjee Award (1963) Pakistan Writer’s Guild (1965) Pakistan Writer’s Guild (1978) PTV gold medal for drama (1989) Tamgha-e- Imtiaz (1990)

PAKISTAN:Return of the Left: Will the hammer & sickle be enough?

The Pakistani Left has been rejoicing. They are hailing the creation of Awami Workers Pakistan (AWP) as a step in the right direction for building a socialist democracy in Pakistan. But as the revolutionary greetings are being exchanged, whispers of internal conflict, the controversial past of Pakistan’s left and ideological differences have also emerged. What is the premise of this merger? Official party statements have declared that it is mobilisation of the masses against class oppression that has been the direct result of the feudal-capitalist structure of Pakistan’s economic and social systems. They concede that they have learned their lessons from the Soviet experiments with socialism and recognise the potential of a strong movement to fight the economic and social suppression. They confess to their most primary criticism; that there has been no organised force to demand such a social and economic upheaval. But is the merger between Labour Party Pakistan, Awami Party Pakistan and Workers Party Pakistan the solution to the problems of Pakistan’s left? What are these problems? What do skeptics and believers say about these problems? THE CYNICS: Dr Ayesha Siddiqua, analysts and author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, had several misgivings about the future of AWP. “What they are trying to do is wonderful in principle,” she tells Pakistan Today. “But it boils down to the operationalization of these principles.” She then went on to explain why she is cynical about the future of AWP. “It is about execution, isn’t it? Running a mass campaign, mobilising the masses against the deep rooted patronage systems, it is not an easy task, and certainly not achievable just by bringing together three small parties,” she explained. Dr Ayesha held that the future of AWP depends on the amount of resources the party manages to accumulate and expressed her doubts on the party’s ability to gather them. “Pakistan inherited Pakistan Muslim League. Therefore the only successful example of a successful party in country is Pakistan People’s Party. They ran an incredible campaign in the seventies – one that was so strong, its legacy has lasted many years. I don’t see AWP putting together such a campaign. They haven’t developed a constituency, they don’t have the resources,” she said. She further added that it is not a question of whether the party is needed; what matters more is the organisational depth and capacity of such a merger. There are also questions about the ideology of the party – not just by the critics but also from the party members themselves. Critics have voiced their apprehensions about the three parties seeing eye-to-eye on the various issues that set them apart in the past. Labour Party Pakistan was known as a neo-Trotskyist organisation, continuing to stress the permanent revolution. Awami Party Pakistan was believed to be “ideologically hostile” to Marxism-Leninism, and known more for their liberal, democratic views on governance. The Workers Party Pakistan was known for its belief in the application of Marxism in Pakistan. Dr Ayesha Siddiqa also questioned the plurality of AWP. “I have my doubts about AWP being a pluralist organixation. How can you stress on one class alone and completely intend to uproot the other?” Professor Aziz ud Din Ahmad, former academic and a political analyst, too, remained on the bench. While lauding the change AWP hopes to bring, he also talked about the hurdles AWP has to overcome before it can manage to become a mainstream political force. “It remains to be seen if the new party is able to overcome some of the traditional flaws of the Left,” he wrote for Pakistan Today. “These include factionalism, addiction to terminology of a particular type, and failure to address the masses in a simple, everyday language they can best understand. Will the components of the new party which had so far worked separately and were at times involved in mutual skirmishes forget old rivalries and work as one party?” He, too, questioned the ability of AWP to manage the resources required for it to become a dominant political force of the Pakistani Left. “Will the new party be able to develop the minimum resources needed to contest the elections which have been made very costly,” he asked. “Will it be able to attract the burgeoning middle class and the civil society in general which happen to be politically the most active while maintaining its roots in its traditional constituencies of the working class and peasantry?” The believers: AWP, however, was quick to defend itself and shoot out replies to all the cynicism directed at it. Rana Aslam, former member of Labour Party Pakistan and currently an active member of AWP, said that in retrospect, the merger was a natural order of things. “It was time to do away with the old and bring in the new,” he said. When asked about the biggest hurdle faced while putting together the merger, he replied thoughtfully, “I would say it was convincing the senior leadership of the party to let go of the ideas of a bloody revolution. That isn’t going to happen and we were not sure anymore if we wanted that to be the way we came into mainstream politics.” He further explained that AWP is a sign of maturity of Pakistan’s Left. “When we were three different parties, we disagreed on so many different issues; nationalization, feudalism, and even what our priorities were. This merger has allowed us to see the one common point that brings us all together: oppression, poverty and the common man that has been neglected as while political parties squabble within themselves.” Ammar Ali Jan, a key figure in bringing together this merger, further explained the dynamics of Pakistan’s Leftist politics. “The Left in Pakistan has remained isolated and scattered since the 1980s, when our state and society underwent a massive turn towards the Right under the draconian regime of General Zia,” he told Pakistan Today. “A period of defeat, stagnation and depression is often followed by a period of isolation and sectarianism, since no group or party actually believes that it can challenge the status quo in any meaningful way and hence reverts back to obsolete debates around “ideological purity”. Since the Lawyers’ Movement (and before that, the Okara Tenants’ Movement and the Faisalabad Power Loom Workers Movement, to name a few) there has been an increase in political consciousness in the country, particularly amongst the youth. This also meant that after almost two decades, a number of young activists, particularly in the National Student’s Federation, gravitated towards the Left.” He then went on to explain why the need for the merger was felt by the existing Lefist parties. “The task then was to convince members and the leadership of the three parties to recognize the changing dynamics in Pakistan, and generally around the globe, and to seriously start engaging in building a Left alternative in the country,” he said. “The merger process was naturally a difficult process because all parties had a distinct ideological outlook and different opinions on questions of strategy. However, a vast majority of members realised that one of the key revolutionary tasks of today is to build an alternative to market fundamentalism and to re-introduce class-based politics in the country. There was complete consensus on resisting imperialism, religious fundamentalism and fighting for the rights of women, oppressed nationalities and religious minorities.” He said he was hopeful about AWP because today, there are more forces that unite the three parties than those who divide it. “The merger committee decided that the AWP must allow space for all tendencies of the Left, promoting a culture of open and frank debate, discussion and criticism,” he said, adding that parties often split in Pakistan because there is very little space for dissenting views, so this openness to new ideas is a positive development that will help maintain party cohesion. Respondeding to Dr Siddiqa’s concerns about plurality of AWP. “I think there is enough plurality in the new Party, but, it should be clear that this a Left party of different Marxist tendencies coming together,” he said. “I think it is important to take a clear ideological position when the only ideology available is either neo-liberalism/market fundamentalism (practiced by all mainstream parties) or reactionary religious fundamentalism. AWP is creating a third pole, which insists that this a false choice and that there is an alternative to the present crisis.” He then went on to explain the two biggest challenges of AWP. The first, he said, involves constructing a coherent organisational set-up throughout the country. This process will begin from next month with provincial committees being set up all across the country followed by district committees. The second, and more important, task is the party engaging with popular struggles erupting across the country. The main aim of any Left party is to become a consistent expression of popular movements, politicizing social movements by linking their struggles to structural and systemic injustices. Thus, the main challenge for AWP will be to develop a sustained engagement with such struggles without necessarily trying to subordinate them to the party, which was a common practice in the past. He conceded to the argument that AWP is currently ready to engage in any serious electoral effort, except in a few places in KPK and Punjab, and stressed that that should not be the immediate task of the party. “Electoral politics will become possible once the party has a powerful organisational network and when it commands the respect of various social movements across the country,” he said. He also touched on the question of the role of religion AWP’s politics. “AWP believes that religion is a private affair between a human being and God, while it can also be used to inculcate feelings of cooperation and mutual respect in communities,” he said. The party has absolutely nothing to do with people’s personal beliefs. The main point is that we should keep religion away from our decadent state, not only to promote tolerance and more freedom of thought, but also to save religion itself from being corrupted, he added. THE BYSTANDERS: The general elections are coming up. In the face of that, AWP is undoubtedly a rising force that cannot be ignored. Cynics and believers alike agree that now is not the time for AWP to flex its muscle. To the contrary, it faces the challenge of building a strong movement that becomes an alternative to the status quo. While that happens, what does the average man say? “It remains to be seen, doesn’t it,” said Allah Yar, a local fruit trader. “We hear of parties emerging and breaking up every day. If this new party i has solid footing to stand on, I will not hesitate to support it. But in the meantime, I am not going to waste my time chasing dreams that seem so far fetched.” Maryam, a student, was more hopeful. “Why not?” she asked. “If we can bring PPP to power so many times, if we are sick of the same old faces, why not give this one a chance?” Ibrahim, a farmer, further said, “this party looks like it focuses more on industry workers than the peasants. If it does not focus on the peasants, it is losing out on the support the feudal lords have in the country.”

Peshawar: Education plays vital role in changing society

Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Barrister Masood Kausar has said that educational institutions are true source of gaining wisdom to ensure better future of the students. The developed nations had also faced many problems but they made progress because of education .only education can make prosprous the progress and propriety of society, he added. Only education brings a better change both in individuals and collective lives and we also expect more effective response from our educational institutions. He was addressing the Convocation 2012 of Khyber Medical College, Peshawar, one of the most prestigious institutions of the country, at the Convocation Hall of University of Peshawar on Saturday. In all more than 170 graduates, Abid Ali with five different distinctions achieved the coveted award of the college for being declared the best student of the session while Adil Parvez bagged three distinctions. Similarly Hajra Zainab and Sara Azam Shah with two distinctions each and Misbah Manzoor, Sidra Afridi, Sidra Beg, Shahzad Khan, Bilal Ahmad, Ahmad Arsalan, Muhammad Asif and Abdul Haseeb Qazi each with single distinctions were also awarded gold medals. The Governor on his own behalf also announced cash awards of Rs 20,000 and Rs10,000 for girls and boys for their each distinctive positions. The ceremony was also addressed by the Vice Chancellor of the Khyber Medical University, Prof. Dr. Hafeezullah and the Principal of the college, Prof Dr. Sultan Mahmood. MPA Mr. Atif-ur- Rehman was also present on the occasion. The Governor who is also the Chancellor of the public sector Universities in the province reminded the students that they had chosen a field which demands missionary zeal and spirit to serve the humanity remaining above all kinds of considerations and having availed the opportunities of studying in prestigious institutions like this one, they are rightly expected to come up to the expectations. Appreciating the working of the college, the Governor said, this is an institution which we can present to the world as symbol of pride from amongst the medical institutions of the country and it indeed has been making outstanding contributions to promotion of medical education and healthcare at the national level and deserves to be fully supported. This mother institution of its nature in the province, he added, has been serving as nursery in providing healthcare professionals and intellectuals whose services and capabilities are second to none not only in the province and country but at the international level too. He also paid tributes to the Former Prime Minister, Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto for her services to the college and said being her companion it always gives him extra satisfaction to contribute for betterment of this college. Referring to certain points raised by the Principal of the College in the annual report, the Governor pointed out that during general debriefings on education sector reforms two years back, he came across the state of challenges, which the system of medical education has been facing and the state of this college was also exceptional. Today, he remarked, great deal of progress in bringing improvement in its working, is a source of great satisfaction. The timely initiatives of the government and college management in rehabilitation and improvement of this institution are indeed appreciable, he added. As far as provision of additional land for promotion of sports facilities and residential accommodation are concerned, the Governor said, every possible step will be taken to materialize their requests. He also announced a grant of rupees one million for welfare services of the college. Earlier, the Governor gave away degrees and awards to the graduates.

Malala under attack

Ghazi Salahuddin
In many ways, Peshawar has a kinship with Karachi, even though they are the two most distant major cities in the country. Both are afflicted with violence and targeted killings. What is remarkable in this relationship is that Karachi has a larger population of Pakhtuns than Peshawar, a city of history unlike Karachi. So, when I was in Peshawar for three days during this week, I was looking, in a sense, for reflections of my own city in a somewhat alien environment. But my interactions, except for an entire afternoon when I walked the Peshawar streets, were restricted to students, teachers, writers, artists and social activists. If you wonder how such an ingenious congregation was available in a place that is surrounded by jihadi elements, let me tell you that I was there for Children’s Literature Festival, held in the environs of the great Islamia College. However, my encounters and observations were laced with some scary thoughts about the nature of conflict that is raging in the minds of our youngsters. I felt that the seeds of militancy and intolerance are scattered widely and have already sprouted into seemingly invincible biases in the thinking of many young students. If the powers that be do not readily confront this challenge, the entire edifice of what we perceive as national security is bound to crumble before long. Malala Yousafzai, come to think of it, has emerged as a great symbol that should help the authorities to promote the high ideals of education, particularly of girls, and of social advancement in a society held back by primitive and obscurantist ideas. Because Malala comes from the same region and culture, it was natural for her face to represent the very spirit of the festival. And she did figure in some of the festival’s activities. However, the lunatic fringe in this respect was also exposed as a few students angrily – or threateningly – expressed their views against Malala. It is all right, even necessary, to hold one’s opinions and express them in a rational manner. That is what education is all about. The problem is that the Taliban worldview, starkly at odds with our times, is being poured into the receptive minds of some groups of children and what we have in the name of education is not being able to deal with this deadly distortion. It is in this depressing setting that we have the shining light that Malala has personified. The rulers were gifted with a rare opportunity to build popular support for a decisive operation against terrorism and religious extremism when the Taliban hit Malala and the entire nation was suddenly pushed into a state of shock and disbelief. Alas, this Malala moment was not seized in spite of the liberal and democratic ideals that the rulers profess. After that initial display of indecision and weakness on the part of the wielders of power, it became easier for the religious lobby to put a spin on the Malala incident and confuse the entire issue. She was portrayed, in defiance of common sense, as a spy of the west and, unbelievably, the Taliban have continued to assert that she deserved to die. All this should only enhance the meaning and the power of Malala as a symbol. Hence, if Malala is under attack, Pakistan is under attack. This is a message that has not yet been received by our security establishment. Is it because this establishment is distracted by power games that have domestic, as well as global implications? Be that as it may, I am recounting here some impressions that I gathered at the Children’s Literary Festival held in Peshawar on Wednesday and Thursday. Sponsored by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) and the Oxford University Press (OUP), in collaboration with Foundation Open Society Institute, Bacha Khan Trust Education Foundation and Islamia College University, the festival was a grand affair and must have been an occasion for great joy for thousands of school students who attended its varied and colourful activities. That such an event could take place in the present security environment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is in itself an achievement and it represents the silver lining that the civil society activists have provided in the realm of education and awareness. Writers, educators, artists and commentators were brought together from all parts of the country and the pace, on both days, was quite hectic. Incidentally, the first such festival was held in Lahore last year. It was followed by a similar show in Quetta two months ago. Understandably, security concerns did become an impediment in Quetta and Peshawar. My own participation was restricted to just four sessions, surely not as popular as stage shows and the fair on the lawns. My main interest was in talking to parents and teachers on ‘promoting the culture of reading’. I was impressed by the high-level of discourse in a session on ‘critical thinking’ that I moderated. Throughout, I was aware of a depressingly poor intellectual environment in educational institutions and the onslaught of militant and orthodox ideologies. At the same time, I was astonished and inspired by some examples of how these ideologies are being challenged. The inaugural session projected this conflict in an unexpected manner. One school presented a tableau on a martial theme. This obviously was not in sync with the spirit of the festival. But it was refreshing to see the two provincial ministers who were the chief guests to speak forcefully and eloquently against that tableau and what it sought to convey. In fact, what both the ministers – Qazi Asad of the Ministry of Higher Education and Wajid Ali Khan of the Ministry of Environment and Forests – were candid and courageous in their defence of liberal and progressive policies. I was also impressed by a number of other speakers and there was sufficient evidence to show that rational and progressive thinking may be gaining strength in small and isolated sections of our society. One problem, in this respect, is that our national policies are not supportive of the emancipation of the Pakistani mind. This will bring me back to the great tragedy of how the ruling coalition appears to be more interested in its own survival than in the survival of a truly democratic and egalitarian polity in which ordinary people are protected from ignorance and injustice. I have said that I spent an entire afternoon walking the streets of Peshawar. I was able to converse with a number of individuals and it was heartbreaking to find many of them ill-informed and totally biased about the national crisis. I have no idea how anyone, including the political leaders and the media, can communicate with these people.

Pakistan struggles to develop its own armed drones

The Denver Post
Visitors in Karachi, Pakistan, look at a model of the country's unmanned drones at an exhibition of its defense aircraft Thursday. Meanwhile, Pakistan is secretly racing to develop armed drones. (Shakil Adil, The Associated Press)
Pakistan, frustrated with U.S. refusals to provide it with armed drones, is secretly racing to develop its own aircraft — but struggling in its initial tests with a lack of precision munitions and advanced targeting technology. China, one of Islamabad's closest allies and Washington's biggest rivals, has offered to help by selling Pakistan armed drones it developed. But industry experts say there is still uncertainty about the capabilities of the Chinese aircraft. The development of unmanned combat aircraft is especially sensitive in Pakistan because of the widespread unpopularity of the hundreds of U.S. drone strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the country's rugged tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government denounces the CIA strikes as a violation of the country's sovereignty, although senior civilian and military leaders are known to have supported at least some of the attacks in the past. Pakistani officials also call the strikes unproductive, saying they kill many civilians and fuel anger that helps militants recruit additional fighters — allegations denied by the U.S. Pakistan has demanded that the U.S. provide it with armed drones, claiming it could more effectively carry out attacks against militants. Washington has refused because of the sensitive nature of the technology and doubts that Pakistan would reliably target U.S. enemies. The U.S. has held talks with Pakistan about providing unarmed surveillance drones, but Islamabad already has these aircraft in operation, and the discussions have gone nowhere. Inaugurating a defense exhibition in Karachi last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf indicated Islamabad would look for help from Beijing in response to U.S. intransigence. "Pakistan can also benefit from China in defense collaboration, offsetting the undeclared technological apartheid," Ashraf said. Pakistan has also been working to develop armed drones on its own, said Pakistani military officials and civilians involved in the domestic drone industry, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the work. Pakistan first began weapons tests seven to eight months ago with the Falco, an Italian drone used by the Pakistani air force for surveillance that has been modified to carry rockets, said a civilian with knowledge of the secret program. Pakistan lacks laser-guided missiles like the Hellfire used on U.S. Predator and Reaper drones and the advanced targeting system that goes with it, so the military has been using unguided rockets that are much less accurate.

U.S. drone missions may be secretive, but the results are worthwhile

By:Dave Sherman
America’s manned military presence in Afghanistan is winding down, at the direction of President Barack Obama, and troops are coming home. They still remain in danger, though, from both our nation’s enemies and some of the very troops we are trying to train, as defenders of their homeland. One way to protect our troops is by using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. At fewer than 30 feet in length, drones were primarily developed as reconnaissance vehicles. They can soar over unsafe territory for the best type of intelligence-gathering missions: those that would give our troops a better chance of success. Published information said that drones can travel up to 400 miles, scout a site for 14 hours and return to their base. In recent years, armed drones have been employed, by virtue of their stealth and speed, to take out leading al-Qaeda figures. Unfortunately, civilian deaths have occurred, as well. Unarmed drones have positive uses along the U.S. border with Mexico, as well. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Office of Customs and Border Protection is planning on having as many as 24 Predator drones, that can be deployed within three hours, anywhere in the country. Detractors rose up, earlier this month, when an unarmed U.S. drone was fired upon, by Iranian fighters. American officials stated that the craft was flying over international waters at the time and was not damaged, in the engagement. The objection to the use of drones by the U.S. military apparently stems from a fear that these weapons can be used away from the spotlight more commonly afforded to troops on the ground. A secret mission to spy on and possibly kill anyone we suspect of terrorist activity – or who would plot attacks on our troops – may stay secret forever. This is a reality that may accompany wartime strategy, for decades to come. An opinion column recently written by Rosa Brooks, a former senior adviser at the U.S. State Department, blasted the secrecy surrounding the use of drone missions. “This amounts, in practice, to a claim that the executive branch has the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information, discussed in a secret process, by largely anonymous individuals,” she wrote. “‘Trust us’ is a pretty shaky foundation for the rule of law.” Perhaps Brooks would like her own chair in the Situation Room. Only a handful of individuals knew about the mission that would result in the death of Osama bin Laden. Secrecy was paramount to its success. Does the average American really need to know if, and when, drones flew over his compound to set the stage for the mission? I think not. We would all like to think we can trust our military. As the commander in chief, the president is ultimately in control. There is one other advantage to having drones handle high-risk missions in hostile territory. If they are lost in combat, they don’t leave grieving families behind.

D8 summit: Bangladesh, Malaysia PMs bow out

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena Wajid has informed the government of her non-participation in a key summit on developing countries to be held in Pakistan later this month, sources said. Earlier reports suggested that the Bangladesh would be represented at the conference by Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, however, sources said his attendance also seems unlikely now. According to foreign ministry officials, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, or one of the advisers to the Bangladeshi premier, will now represent Bangladesh in the summit. Sources told The Express Tribune that the Bangladesh premier and foreign minister handed over a list of demands to Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar during her visit. The demands included putting on trial former military and political personalities allegedly involved in the fall of Dhaka. Furthermore, Bangladesh sought an official apology from Pakistan for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 war. Pakistan has said it has regretted the war crimes in different forms in the past and that “it was time to move forward.” Meanwhile, the Malaysian prime minister also excused himself from attending the conference due to prior engagements. However, the reason for his absence could not be confirmed. According to reports, the Malaysian deputy prime minister would lead his delegation in Islamabad. The D-8 Summit is scheduled to be held on November 22 in Islamabad.