Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Egyptians at the Palace Gates, Phones in Hand

Romanian Club Hits January 2012

What's going on in Pakistan?

The case of Salman Taseer’s murder points to the gravity of the situation. More than 500 Muslim clerics came out publicly justifying the governors’ assassination and praising his murderer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri. Pakistani lawyers showered flowers on Qadri when he was brought in a police van before an Islamabad court.
Last Saturday, Shri Rama Pir Mandir, a century-old Hindu temple in Soldier Bazaar in Karachi, along with surrounding houses of the Hindus, was destroyed by the authorities. Although the Sindh High Court is hearing a petition on the matter, Karachi police denied the existence of the temple altogether.
Of course, this is not the first time the Hindus have been targeted in Pakistan. Pakistan Hindu Council contends that more than 50 Hindu families are migrating to India every month due to the persecution they face in Pakistan. Even though the case of forced conversion and marriage of a Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari attracted a lot of media attention earlier this year, not much has changed on the ground. Those staying there live under the constant threat of forced conversions, demolition and desecration of temples, kidnapping for ransom and demands for protection money. This year during the month of Ramzan, Maya Khan, a popular TV anchor, converted, with great personal pride, a Hindu boy on her live show at ARY. Rather than being denounced, such forced conversions are now being celebrated.
But it is not the Hindus alone that suffer from persecution in Pakistan. The other religious minority, Christians are no better off. Numerous incidents of land-grabbing of churches and missionary hospitals, and of burning down of churches have been reported in the recent years but no action has been taken by the government. Then are the charges of blasphemy slapped against the Christians, the most famous being that against Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of four. The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was last year shot dead by his own bodyguard for supporting Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy. Like him, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, was murdered for seeking reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The case of Salman Taseer’s murder points to the gravity of the situation. More than 500 Muslim clerics came out publicly justifying the governors’ assassination and praising his murderer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri. Pakistani lawyers showered flowers on Qadri when he was brought in a police van before an Islamabad court. Most interestingly, Qadri’s team of defence lawyers is led by former chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Khwaja Muhammad Sharif. As Chief Justice, he had, in March 2010, accused Pakistani Hindus of “involvement in funding terrorism” in that country. Others may not have been so vocal, but the actions of the Pakistan Supreme Court in Rinkle Kumari case again brought home the prejudice against minorities in the judiciary. If discrimination against Hindus and Christians can be understood as being rooted in the founding ideology of Pakistan, the case of Ahmedis is a bit different. Responding to long-standing demands, when Prime Minister ZA Bhutto introduced a law in 1974 which declared Ahmedis as non-Muslim. Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam, who also worked on Pakistani nuclear programme, is not remembered in that country because he was an Ahmedi. He left for England in 1974 after Pakistan declared Ahmedis as non-Muslim. After his death in 1996, his body was brought to Pakistan and buried next to his parents’ graves in the city of Rabwah. The epitaph on his grave initially read ‘First Muslim Nobel Laureate’, but a Pakistani court later ordered that the word ‘Muslim’ be removed, leaving the nonsensical description ‘First [blank] Nobel Laureate’. What started with non-Muslims in Pakistan has now reached the Shias. A Pew Survey from August showed that only 50 per cent of Pakistanis consider Shias as Muslims. News reports say that more Shias have been killed in Pakistan this year than in any previous year. In typical Pakistani style, the main anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has reincarnated itself as Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat and is operating with impunity. Hazaras in Balochistan and Shias in Gilgit-Baltistan have been the primary targets of jehadi groups. The real extent of brutality is never known as these areas are out of bounds for both local and foreign journalists. For all the pontification about human rights and the Right to Protect elsewhere, the world seems unusually silent about what is happening inside Pakistan. The US, which needs Pakistan’s help for an honourable exit from Afghanistan, is turning a blind eye. It did the same when Pakistan army carried out a genocide in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). For other Western countries, Pakistan is just another far-away lawless land like Somalia or Congo where people are mindlessly killing each other. But what is India’s excuse?

Obama to fill key posts in weeks, Hagel on Pentagon short list

President Barack Obama is expected to announce his nominees for secretaries of state and defense in the next two weeks, with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on the short list of potential choices to head the Pentagon, senior administration officials said on Tuesday. Hagel, whose appointment would give Obama's reshuffled second-term Cabinet a bipartisan cast, met the Democratic president at the White House this week to discuss a post on his national security team. But there was no sign that Obama had decided on any of the key nominations he will put forth. Obama is still deliberating whether to unveil his top national security appointments, likely to include a new CIA director, in a single high-profile package this month or to name them one-by-one, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Other top contenders to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are believed to include former senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Democratic Senator John Kerry. Complicating matters, Obama is also deciding whether to nominate Kerry as secretary of state to replace Hillary Clinton, or to go with Susan Rice, embattled U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Rice is a long-time confidante of the president, but picking her would lead to a tough Senate confirmation battle over her comments in the wake of the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has coveted the job as America's top diplomat and would face a much smoother confirmation process if nominated. It is unclear, however, whether he would accept the Pentagon post instead. If Obama nominates Kerry for State, he could the risk opening up a safe Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts, which Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who just lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren, could run for in a special election. Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, reiterated that Rice is "highly qualified" for the job, but said, "I haven't made a decision about secretary of state." NEW FACES FOR NATIONAL SECURITY Obama's choices for State and Defense will essentially set the tone for his administration's handling of a wide range of global issues in his second term, including Middle East upheaval, Iran's nuclear standoff with the West and efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan. With candidates still going through the vetting process, Obama is not expected to unveil his choices before next week, but he has every intention of making his announcements before the end of the year, the administration official said. The choice of Hagel, a moderate on foreign policy who currently co-chairs Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board, would give the president a Republican in his Cabinet at a time when he is trying to win bipartisan cooperation from congressional Republicans on taxes and spending to avoid a looming "fiscal cliff." It is also possible that Hagel's name was being floated to show Obama's willingness to reach across the aisle, even if he ultimately does not nominate him. A social conservative and strong internationalist who co-chaired John McCain's failed Republican presidential campaign back in 2000, Hagel might seem an unlikely pick were it not for his dissent years ago on the Iraq war launched under former President George W. Bush, a Republican. That war was the issue on which Obama also rose to national prominence. Hagel served two terms in the Senate, representing Nebraska, and left in 2008. He is a professor at Georgetown University. Since he left the Senate, Hagel has been a big critic of his own party. He told the Financial Times newspaper in 2011 that he was "disgusted" by the "irresponsible actions" of Republicans during the debt ceiling debate. Former President Bill Clinton chose former Republican Senator William Cohen to lead the Defense Department, and Obama kept Robert Gates, former President George W. Bush's last defense secretary, on board for the first part of his term. Hagel has also been seen as a contender to take over at the CIA, where retired general David Petraeus resigned last month amid a scandal over an extramarital affair. CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who took over as acting director, and White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan are also in the running.


Morsi leaves palace as police battle protests

Riot police tear-gas demonstrators outside Morsi's palace; thousands stage "last warning" protests against Morsi decree.Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside President Mohamed Morsi's palace in Cairo on Tuesday, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, presidency sources said. Officers fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators angered by Morsi's drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on Dec. 15. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.The crowds had gathered nearby in what organizers had dubbed "last warning" protests against Morsi, who infuriated opponents with a Nov. 22 decree that expanded his powers. "The people want the downfall of the regime," the demonstrators chanted. "The president left the palace," a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had departed. Morsi ignited a storm of unrest in his bid to prevent a judiciary still packed with appointees of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak from derailing a troubled political transition. Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, the Islamist president has shown no sign of buckling under pressure. Riot police at the palace faced off against activists chanting "leave, leave" and holding Egyptian flags with "no to the constitution" written on them. Protesters had assembled near mosques in northern Cairo before marching towards the palace. "Our marches are against tyranny and the void constitutional decree and we won't retract our position until our demands are met," said Hussein Abdel Ghany, a spokesman for an opposition coalition of liberal, leftist and other disparate factions. Protesters later surrounded the palace, with some climbing on gates at the rear to look down into the gardens. At one point, people clambered onto a police armoured vehicle and waved flags, while riot police huddled nearby. The Health Ministry said 18 people had been injured in clashes next to the palace, according to the state news agency.

Syrian rebel attack on school kills 29 students, teacher: TV

A rebel mortar attack on a school in a camp for displaced people near Damascus on Tuesday killed 29 students and their teacher, Syrian state television reported, calling it a “horrific crime.” The mortar smashed into Bteiha school in Wafideen camp about 20 kilometers (15 miles) northeast of Damascus, the report said. Wafideen is home to some 25,000 people displaced from the Golan Heights by the Israeli occupation since 1967. “They were killed by a mortar launched by terrorists,” said the broadcaster, using the Syrian regime’s term for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s raging civil war. Battles east of Damascus have grown especially bloody in past days as troops try to push back rebels in the Eastern Ghouta region as they inch closer towards the capital. On Tuesday alone, a total of 16 people were killed in violence in the province of Damascus, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which also reported the killings in the Wafideen camp. The Britain-based watchdog also reported raging battles on Tuesday at a checkpoint near the strategic road linking Damascus to the international airport. The army meanwhile shelled several towns and villages in the outskirts of Damascus, both southwest and east of the capital, it said.

Egyptian newspapers go on strike to protest draft constitution

Several Egyptian newspapers on Tuesday suspended publication to protest both the recently issued presidential decrees and the draft constitution, some of them carrying dramatic front pages headlined "No to Dictatorship." Al Ahram Online reported that 12 Egyptian newspapers will not go to print and five TV channels will go off air Tuesday. Some of them run a media strike poster that reads in Arabic “a constitution that terminates rights and restrains freedoms. No to dictatorship” Egypt independent carried a statement on its website saying, “You are reading this message because Egypt independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity.” Ahram Online, in a statement posted on its Website, “declares its full support for the strike action undertaken on Tuesday by a large number of major Egyptian newspapers and TV stations in defense of freedom of the press, freedom of expression, civil liberties and the rule of law.” “In view of our particular status as a web-based news outlet, however, we will maintain our updates throughout this crucial day of protest, not in contravention of the strike action, but in full solidarity with it,” the statement by Ahram Online added. Online media did not go on strike in order to cover to newspapers strike. Some of the papers that went on strike included: Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Watan, Al-Tahrir, Al-Wafd, Al-Youm 7, Al-Dostour, Al-Shorouk, Al-Sabah, Al-Ahaly, Al-Ahrar, Al-Fagr and Osbooa. The draft constitution which will be set to vote on Dec. 5 allows for the imprisonment of journalists in cases related to freedom of expression, and this has prompted wide discontent among the media. The executive council of the Journalists Syndicate had pulled out in November from the Constituent Assembly drafting the constitution after its recommendation and demands were ignored. Farrag Ismail, a veteran Egyptian journalist, criticized Egyptian media going on strike, saying their demands were not realistic. “They do not want journalists who defame and slander people to be imprisoned, this is unrealistic,” he said, adding that “if such door is opened, even in cases involving public figures, Egypt will plunge further into chaos.” Egypt opposition to march on presidential palace Opponents of Mursi were to march on the presidential palace on Tuesday to protest his power grab and a controversial draft charter, as the country plunged deeper into crisis. Five marches were set to take off at 4:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) from several mosques in Cairo towards the Itihadiya presidential palace in the upscale neighborhood of Heliopolis, organizers said. Security measures have been tightened around the capital, with some schools and businesses closing early for the day. A Nov. 22 decree issued by Mursi expanding his powers and enabling him to put to a Dec. 15 referendum a draft constitution -- rejected by liberals, leftists and Christians -- has sparked strikes and deadly protests. The constitution has become the focal point of a political and ideological battle in Egypt between Islamists who support Mursi and the largely secular-leaning opposition. The charter has been criticized for failing to protect key rights and for paving the way to a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Video: Clashes outside Egypt's presidential palace

Egyptian police have fired tear gas at opposition protesters demonstrating against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's drive to hold a snap referendum on a controversial draft charter, as the country plunges deeper into crisis. Live television footage showed that some protesters broke through police lines and got too close to the presidential palace. Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo said: "We saw thousand of people surrounding the palace on all four corners, outnumbering the police and getting close to the presidential walls." "Opposition has announced there's going to be a sit-in outside the palace," she said. "The message coming out of here is that the president has failed to prove to Egyptians that he is the president of all of Egypt, as opposed to a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood group." She said "Morsi is preparing for the referendum, he is under a lot of pressure from the opposition, but he does not seemed to be phased by the protests". Thousands had taken to the streets waving Egyptian flags, chanting for the downfall of the president and denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi emerged, for having "sold the revolution" that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year. The strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries. 'Stand up to tyranny' Also on Tuesday, at least eight influential daily newspapers, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of expression in the draft constitution. The move, according to independent daily Al-Tahrir, was aimed at "standing up to tyranny". The country's privately owned TV networks are planned their own protest on Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day. A November 22 decree issued by Morsi expanding his powers and enabling him to put to a mid-December referendum a draft constitution rejected by liberals has sparked strikes and deadly protests. The charter has become the focal point of a political and ideological battle in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamic allies and the largely secular-leaning opposition. "The country is deeply divided over Morsi's legitimacy, the opposition are saying they are not against his election which was legitimate, but his actions and decrees are not legitimate," said our reporter. Morsi's decision has not only placed his decisions beyond judicial oversight but also barred any judicial body from dissolving the panel that drafted and approved the new constitution, sparking a conflict with the country's judges. As he faces his worst crisis since taking office in June, Morsi insists the measures are aimed at ending a tumultuous transition following the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in early 2011. But his opponents have accused him of choosing the same path of autocracy that finally cost Mubarak his presidency. The decision to go to a referendum on December 15 caused further upheaval, including within the judiciary itself. On Monday, the Supreme Judicial Council said it would ensure judicial supervision of the referendum, despite calls for a boycott by some of their colleagues, including the influential Judges Club, an association that represents judges nationwide.

38 Years of service: 70-year-old Swedish charity worker shot in Lahore

A charity worker from Sweden, who has dedicated close to 40 years to charity work in Pakistan, was shot in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen in Lahore on Monday. Now hospitalised, Bargeeta Almby, 70, was returning from work when she was attacked by unknown assailants in the Model Town neighbourhood, where she lives. She suffered a bullet injury on her neck and was immediately shifted to Jinnah Hospital after the incident, where her condition is stated to be critical. Almby has lived in Pakistan for the past 38 years, according to the police. The Swede is the managing director in Pakistan of the Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA), which describes itself as a ‘church fellowship’ founded in the US with congregations worldwide. Almby runs various centers in different areas of Lahore, including an orphanage in Yohana Abad and a literacy centre in Modern Colony in the Kot Lakhpat area. In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, Almby donated Rs30 million to the government for establishing a database centre in Balakot, while the FGA also constructed various shelter homes across the country for earthquake and flood victims. According to FGA media coordinator Salim Iqbal, she lived adjacent to the residence of Pakistan Peoples Party Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo. “Although the police are deployed at Wattoo’s residence, they could neither identify the shooter nor shield Almby,” Iqbal said. A case has been registered at the Model Town Police Station under Section 324 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) on the complaint of Salim Sadiq, the chairman of FGA Pakistan.
http://pullquotesandexcerpts.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/the-police.jpg?w=625 A police official, Ehsanul Haq Hashmi, told The Express Tribune there were witnesses of the incident and they were waiting for Almby to gain consciousness to record her statement. He further said that the motive behind the incident has so far not been ascertained. The police are also investigating how the gunmen managed to escape despite the presence of police and Rangers. Meanwhile, Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teo Zetterman confirmed the incident, and added that the motive behind the attack was unclear. Advisor to Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Harmony Dr Paul Bhatti confirmed that Almby’s condition was stated to be serious by her doctors. Condemning the act of violence, he said, “I’m really sorry that this happens in our country where a few people are trying to disturb peace.” Christian rights activists strongly denounced the attack saying that Almby was a non-political personality and had been living in Lahore since years. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) termed the attack extremely deplorable and condemnable. In August last year, a 71-year-old US development worker Warren Weinstein, was kidnapped after gunmen managed to get into his Lahore home. In April, a British Muslim Red Cross worker was beheaded nearly four months after being kidnapped in the southwestern city of Quetta.

Excessive internet bans worrisome for Pakistan

Have you tried to watch a music video online in the last month? Catch up on the news; a university lecture; access a video blog? If so, it’s very likely that you’ll have attempted to access YouTube, the video-sharing platform used by millions of people worldwide. And if you’re in Pakistan, you must have been disappointed. The entire website has been blocked in Pakistan since September 17, after riots swept the major cities, leaving scores of people dead. The violence was triggered by a trailer for a film called “The Innocence of Muslims”, hosted by YouTube. The government demanded that access to the video be blocked. Internet giant Google, which owns YouTube, said that it could not restrict access because it doesn’t have a localised operation in Pakistan. In response, the Pakistan Telecommunications Agency (PTA) blocked the whole platform. The deadlock has now lasted for over a month.
With more than seven million YouTube users in Pakistan, the ban has already had a far-reaching impact. The Virtual University is a government-run institution which, since 2002, has provided distance learning across Pakistan, entirely through the internet and satellite TV. Until recent events, it was heavily dependent on YouTube. “The Virtual University used YouTube for uploading video content, so that students – who are very used to YouTube – could use it for their studies,” explains Mohammed, an IT manager at the VU. Since the ban, the VU has entirely moved off YouTube and onto its own uploading and streaming service. They were lucky that they already had such a system in place, allowing an easy switch over. Smaller organisations, which do not have the resources to host their own videos, or to develop the means to do so, are in a much more difficult position. The PTA has been engaged in a steadily intensifying attempt to censor the internet ever since the Pakistan Telecommunication Act of 1996, which prohibited the transmission of messages that are “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene”. The vagueness of the terminology leaves ample room for abuse, with no clear criteria for what should be banned, and no accountability in the decision-making process. Ad hoc bans such as the recent YouTube block are widely used: YouTube has been barred on at least two previous occasions, while Facebook and Twitter have also been temporarily blocked in recent years. Yet according to a High Court decision obtained by Bolo Bhi, a non-profit group working for internet freedom and government transparency, these bans are unconstitutional and should not be permitted. Unconstitutional, perhaps – but temporary bans are just the tip of the iceberg. In February this year, the National ICT R&D Fund put out a request for proposals for a massive URL filtering system to block “undesirable, blasphemous, objectionable, obscene content”. One of the most effective methods of blocking content, such software can review 50 million website links in less than a second and would allow the government to restrict access very easily. Under immense pressure from national and international human rights organisations campaigning for access to information, the proposal was dropped. But the “Innocence of Muslims” riots appear to have changed all that. Asked by the Lahore High Court why it was unable to block the video, the PTA said that it needed specialised systems. A subsequent court order gave them the authority to implement whatever they need. Statements have indicated that a URL filtering system – which some have compared to the infamous Great Firewall of China – will be in place by the end of the year. The fact that the controversial proposal has been reintroduced following public unrest has not been lost on campaigners. “They are taking advantage of the religious issues – blasphemy and pornography,” says Sana Saleem, executive director of Bolo Bhi. She explains that this notion of religious sensitivity is not just a convenient way to usher in censorship, but also a means of shutting down debate. “There are very few of us who talk about internet rights, because it’s such a limited domain in Pakistan. But when you talk about that, you are instantly labeled as a blasphemer, or as someone who supports pornography.” While the PTA claims that it needs this system to filter out blasphemous or indecent material, if past example is anything to go by, its application will be far wider. A 2012 report by Freedom House into global internet freedom found that the most systematically censored websites in Pakistan have been those run by Balochi and Sindhi political dissidents. The Washington-based World Sindhi Institute has been blocked since 2007, while Baloch Hal, the first English language Balochi news service, has been blocked since November 2010. Indeed, Balochistan has suffered disproportionately from ad hoc bans. Not only do activists depend on YouTube to disseminate information about extrajudicial killings, but parts of the state have been subject to several one day bans on mobile phone service. Once the URL filtering system is introduced – even if its stated aim is to restrict content that offends religious sensibilities – it will undoubtedly be used for much wider political censorship. “We will only get the information that the government or state agencies want us to have,” says Saleem. “Unfortunately, the decision to determine what is ‘inappropriate’ arbitrarily remains with individual minds manning these powerful organisations,” says Shahzad Ahmad of Bytes4All, an Islamabad-based digital rights group. “Such decisions carry the potential to not only derail civil liberties and basic human rights such as democracy, freedom of expression and access to information, but also pave the way to individual political interests being served.” There is also huge scope for error. A ban on searching for the word “breasts” in the United Arab Emirates ended up restricting access to medical papers on breast cancer, not just pornography. Closer to home, a recipient of a P@asha innovation fund grant in Pakistan registered the website hometownshoes.com, only to have it banned because all sites containing the term “shoes” were prohibited. After an approach to the PTA, it was reinstated, but it demonstrates the possibility for error and economic losses. Just 20 million people out of Pakistan’s 187 million strong population have access to the internet, making digital rights a niche concern. However, despite this limited audience, being online has brought innumerable benefits to Pakistan, enabling entrepreneurship and economic growth, facilitating education and academic research, and encouraging communication. Increased censorship and the associated impact it will have on the basic human rights of freedom of expression and access to information should be a concern for everyone. As Saleem says, “It’s just another step to becoming a police state and a more closed society than we already are.”

The Brazen, Beautiful Humanity of Malala Yousafzai

By Karen Angela Ellis
The Pakistani teen activist was ambushed and nearly killed by Taliban terrorists because of her stand for education and civil rights for girls and women. Her courage has inspired a new movement for justice. It is easy to imagine Malala Yousafzai’s gracing the cover of TIME magazine as its Person of the Year. Her soft brown eyes peek at us from pictures that have surfaced from the ripples of a sudden plunge into the spotlight. Her story is so dramatic, so much the essence of the human rights struggle that the it continues to fascinate and inspire worldwide. Her hair, side-parted and modestly covered, Miss Yousafzai demonstrates a hunger for peace well beyond her 14 years. In 2011, she was awarded the National Peace Award by the Government of Pakistan for her courage in seeking restoration of peace and education services. In a short span of time, this tiny girl has become a towering figure in her pursuit of justice for herself and 50,000 other schoolgirls who lost the right to education in their Pakistani communities.
Millions more are now familiar with Miss Yousafzai, who was forced off of her school bus, shot in the head, and critically wounded along with two other young schoolgirls at the hands of the Taliban. She continues to heal in the safety of a UK hospital, the government and the world watching over her as if she were the little sister of us all.
Since 2009, when Miss Yousafzai was a mere tween in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, the hope for education has burned in her heart. While other girls in freer societies tweeted their obsessions with fashion and musical heart throbs, Miss Yousafzai dodged daily threats to become internationally known for her blog that promoted the restoration of the education stolen from her and her classmates. Her opponents brazenly confessed planning her demise for at least a year. This time they were mercifully denied satisfaction, though they threaten further attempts will be made until her voice is silenced. With ironic justice, the public magnification of her courage has likewise magnified her opponent’s cowardice, exposing grown men who will go to such lengths to snuff out any beacon of light that pierces the darkness of their own souls.
Nothing New Under the Sun
As a Christian woman, when I think of the social conditions that were in place when Christ walked the earth, I am forced to see how little a young girl’s plight has changed in many areas of the world. Centuries may have passed, but the fundamental flaws in our human character remain the same, and they are often unavoidably woven into the fabric of our societies, both free and restricted.
Knowing this, Christ’s counter-cultural treatment of women stands out in relief. In the first-century Roman Empire, a woman held very little sway on matters political or civil; their social plight two thousand years ago foreshadows the Taliban’s restrictions on a woman’s movements today, be they physical, psychological, political or intellectual. Converse to these gaping holes in our societal fabric, the Bible’s high esteem for women and girls is recorded throughout its narrative. Indeed, many accounts in the Gospels tell us that Christ’s constant consideration of women was radical indeed for its day — His high view of women is perhaps best displayed and recorded in Luke 24 in the first witness of His resurrection and victory over hell, death and the grave; His greatest triumph was first revealed to a group of women .
These women gathered at his empty tomb were entrusted with the first knowledge of the risen Savior; an affirmation of God’s high estimation of the word, witness and worth of a woman (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-10). There is one sole Entity who could first assess, and then restore a woman’s social worth properly as beings who bear the very image of God; that is the Creator of that image, God, Himself (Genesis 1:26-31). These women were divinely commissioned to tell His disciples that Christ had risen, and the news of Hope for all humanity began to spread. “Go, tell the others what you have seen….” What a humbling honor, indeed, to be charged with bearing what has become a life-altering message for so many — including myself.
Today, Miss Yousafzai’s story is known worldwide; it was a proverbial “shot heard ’round the world.” It’s doubtful that life for this young woman will ever be the same, yet she and her family have accomplished more as ordinary citizens than many politicians have been able to do collectively. From her tormentor’s perspective, she must seem as one of the foolish things of the world that has confounded the self-proclaimed “wise.” In her courage, she has shown wisdom that they cannot comprehend. A mere and simple girl, who should have been easily silenced, now heals from her wounds with the protection of the world. She stands defiant in her innocence, large in the power of her perceived weakness. I salute the courage of Miss Yousafzai and her classmates; they have stirred a passion in the world, and made us consider and confront our own humanity. May they be victorious in their quest not only for education and a just society, but also in their larger quest for recognition and in understanding the fullness of their humanity. May they also receive the full dignity and significance that is their right by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and may they come to know the One in whose majestic image they are made.

Blast in Pak near home of Malala's friend: 1 killed, 7 hurt

A bomb went off in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday near the home of a girl who was injured in the Taliban attack on teenage rights activist Malala Yousufzai, killing a woman and injuring seven others. The blast occurred behind the home of Kainat Ahmed in the restive Swat valley, located 160 km from Islamabad, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. Kainat was injured when Taliban militants attempted to kill Malala at Mingora town in Swat on October 9. The bomb attack this morning killed a woman and injured seven local residents. Kainat and another girl, Shazia Ramzan, were injured in the attack on Malala. Both girls recently returned to school after recovering from bullet injuries. Malala, who was shot in the head, is currently being treated at a hospital at Birmingham in Britain. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt, saying Malala was targeted for backing secularism and Western values. The Taliban have warned they will again target Malala and members of her family.

Pakistan's Shia genocide

This year's Ashura in Pakistan signified a continuation of the country's spiral into self-destructive communal violence.
In the days leading up to the religious holiday of Ashura, leading members of the Pakistani Shia community in Pakistan received anonymous text messages warning of violence to come: "Kill, Kill, Shia". In recent years, Ashura - which not long ago throughout the country was an occasion which Sunnis, Shias and others among Pakistan's ethno-religious milieu would commemorate together in harmony - has become an annual flashpoint in Pakistan's increasingly sectarian and violent religious culture. Tragically, and despite high-profile efforts by the government to clamp down on the ability to militants to target worshippers such as the limitating cellphone service and banning of motorcycles from public roads during the holiday, this year's Ashura in Pakistan signified a continuation of the country's spiral into self-destructive communal violence. A suicide bomber in the city of Rawalpindi hurled a grenade into the midst of a Shia procession before detonating his vest and killing 23 people, while other attacks throughout the country from Karachi to Dera Ismail Khan claimed the lives of dozens more. The attacks were claimed by Pakistani Taliban (TTP) militants who denounced the victims as "blasphemers" and stated they were engaged in a "war of belief" with Shias - stating further that attacks against them would continue until they, in their millions, were wiped out of the country. That the fanatical nihilism of terrorist attacks against public religious ceremonies - ceremonies which have been observed since the country's founding - has become normalised and routine is a sign of the depths to which Pakistan has sunk in terms of sectarianism and social fragmentation over the past decade. Once a respected and well-integrated minority in a country where they comprise roughly 20 per cent of the population and count the nation's founder as one of their own, Shia Muslims within Pakistan have become a community under siege in recent years and are facing a situation which is increasingly being described by many Pakistanis as a slow-motion genocide. Several hundred Pakistani Shias have been killed this year alone in increasingly high-profile attacks by extremist militants, including one incident caught on video in August in which passengers were forced off a bus in the Gilgit region and executed by armed militants who checked their victims' ID cards before killing whomsoever they could identify as being Shia. It is believed that since the early 1990s, nearly 4,000 Pakistani Shias have been murdered in sectarian attacks, and at a pace which has rapidly accelerated in recent years. The tragic irony of this increasingly violent sectarianism is that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, widely known and revered as the "Father of the Nation" of Pakistan was himself a Shia Muslim though he maintained a secular public religious identity and preached the same for the country which he created. His famous speech to Pakistanis in which he said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed…", signifies how far modern-Pakistan has departed from its founding ideals and become a place where the country's founder himself would likely be threatened and unwelcome. Ahmadis, Barelvis, Christians and Hindus have all become subject to persecution within an increasingly religiously-chauvinistic Pakistani society, but it is Shias who have suffered the highest toll of bloodshed and whose fate is most tied to external forces intent on using Pakistan as a battleground for broader regional conflicts. Pakistan as sectarian battleground In an interview given to Reuters, Malik Ishaq, the leader of one of Pakistan's most notorious anti-Shia extremist groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) declared Shia Muslims "the greatest infidels on earth" and demanded that the Pakistani state "declare Shia non-Muslims on the basis of their beliefs". Ishaq's demagoguery is not idle talk, LeJ death squads are believed to have been responsible for the killings of thousands of Shias throughout the country, including a campaign of targeted murders in 2011 which killed dozens of Shia doctors, lawyers and politicians residing in the major port-city of Karachi. One lower-level LeJ operative now in police custody, Mahmoud Baber, reportedly choked with pride and emotion while describing to reporters his "great satisfaction" at being involved in 14 murders over his militant career, saying of the organisations purpose: "Get rid of Shias. That is our goal. May God help us". Despite his unrepentant advocacy and propagation of violence, Ishaq himself has been acquitted over 30 times on homicide and terrorism charges - an incredible run of judicial fortune which many have attributed to covert support from elements within Pakistan's national security establishment which have long cultivated such groups as potential weapons against regional rival such as India. Indeed, while organisations like the LeJ, Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and offshoots such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) focus their violence on Pakistani Shias, they are representative of a broader regional narrative to which the Shia community is largely a victim of geopolitical circumstance and manipulation by external parties. Pakistan has long been a front in the battle for regional influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the patronage of violent extremist groups primarily by the latter has been utilised as a tool to counter potential Iranian influence within the country. The Pakistani Shia population, as well as the Pakistan's social cohesion as a whole, have been the collateral damage in this battle as wealthy Gulf donors have armed and funded sectarian death squads to wreak havoc against Pakistani Shias and other religious minorities within the country. WikiLeaks cables released in 2009 described the extent of which this support has been facilitated: "Donors in Saudi Arabia as the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide… for groups aligned with Al-Qaida and focused on undermining stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan". The leaked report describes in detail the extent to which wealthy, conservative Gulf donors have sought to use Pakistan as a battlefront for their war against Iran - a war in which they see all Shias across the world as being legitimate targets for violence. An estimated $100m per year has flowed from donors from the Gulf to fund extremist groups in Pakistan and spread sectarian ideology - a massive sum especially for a developing country such as Pakistan and one which has been increasingly successful in subverting the heterodox and tolerant Islamic tradition which has historically been prevalent in the subcontinent. Children in particular, often pliable candidates for suicide bombings, have been specifically recruited for indoctrination with those "between the ages of 8 to 12" and whose families are "suffering extreme financial difficulties" being the most favoured targets of recruitment by sectarian extremist groups. Extremist religious sentiments While Shia militant groups such as Sipah-e-Muhammad also do exist, these are widely considered by analysts to be marginal and largely reactionary - the Shia community has overwhelmingly been the recipient of violence as opposed to its purveyor and has become the target of external parties using Pakistan as a field upon which to settle regional scores, as well as seeking to give violent expression to their own extremist religious sentiments. As described in an editorial by the Karachi-based Express Tribune: "A fact recognised by all in Pakistan is that the people of the country are not sectarian-minded. Before jihad took hold of Pakistan and extremist clerics became threatening, there was considerable harmony between the sects. Muharram was not the season of sectarian violence and mayhem. Today, the world understands that the intensification of the sectarian feeling among the clerics is actually a result of a war relocated from Pakistan's neighbourhood in the Gulf." Tragically, it has become Pakistani Shias, a community which has little if anything to do with the increasingly heated conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that has today become among its biggest victims of that escalating conflict. There is growing realisation within Pakistan that the cynical manipulation of the country by regional actors is leading to a potential existential crisis for the state. Shias make up a large percentage of the country's population of 180 million and account for a significant proportion of the professional class which is vital to the nation's continued viability. In recent months, high-profile religious leaders from across the country convened in the capital of Islamabad for a conference intended to promote intra-communal unity and "put the genie of sectarianism back in the bottle", while secular political leaders have also made forceful denunciations of the increasingly violent sectarian chauvinism within the country. Despite these encouraging pronouncements, the horrifying scenes of murder which played out on Pakistani streets during this year's Ashura commemorations are a stark reminder of how deeply embedded violently extremist religious attitudes have become within segments of Pakistani society in recent years. Many analysts have warned that Pakistani Shias increasingly face "sectarian cleansing" from the country if violence against them continues to accelerate, a fate which would be a tragic end to a community which for most of the Pakistan's history has lived in communal harmony with majority Sunnis and others within Pakistan's once-inclusive ethnic and religious tapestry. If the measure of a society is how it treats its minorities, the slow-motion genocide being perpetrated against the Shia community in Pakistan is indicative of a country which has acquiesced to being devoured from the inside-out and which has sacrificed for itself any vision of a tolerant and progressive future. Opportunistic Gulf ideologues have turned Pakistan into a charnel-house in pursuit of their own sectarian and political agendas; until Pakistanis forcefully reject the purpose towards which their country is being cynically utilised, the downward spiral of communal violence will proceed and the fate of Pakistan's Shia community will continue to be marked by increasingly wanton massacres and bloodshed. Where Sunnis and Shias within Pakistan once commemorated their holidays together in relative harmony, there has grown an increasingly stark divide - unless it is bridged and unless imported extremist ideologies are stifled, the future of Pakistan as a unified and cohesive state will continue to be threatened.

Pakistan: Desecration of the grotto in the St. Pius Catholic Church Chak Jhumra, Punjab

Faisalabad: Desecration of the grotto in the St. Pius Catholic Church Chak Jhumra, Punjab, Pakistan on November 30, 2012 at about 10 pm by the unknown miscreants and extremists with the stones

Disease and sleep: Recent studies find new links

One in five U.S. adults shows signs of chronic sleep deprivation, and a shortage of sleep has been linked to health problems as different as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies have found some interesting connections between illness and what is happening in our brains as we snooze.

Michael Bloomberg 'asked Hillary Clinton to succeed him' as New York mayor

The New York Times said that the mayor was not entirely happy with the calibre of candidates competing to replace him and thought the Secretary of State, who has announced her intention to retire soon, would be the ideal replacement. Mr Bloomberg, founder of the eponymous data services firm and the 10th richest person in the US, must stand down at the end of next year after 12 years. Mrs Clinton is a former senator for New York, but her fellow Democrats in the city said the idea of her seeking office there struck them as improbable, whether or not she mounts a second run for the White House in 2016, which has been heavily rumoured. “As much as anything, they said, Mr Bloomberg’s encouragement seemed to reflect his lofty view of the office — and himself,” the New York Times said. “He is looking for somebody he can feel comfortable handing the reins over to,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York City political operative who worked on Mr. Bloomberg’s last campaign.

Protesters tear gassed outside Morsi's palace

Egyptian police have fired tear gas at opposition protesters demonstrating against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's drive to hold a snap referendum on a controversial draft charter, as the country plunged deeper into crisis. Live television footage showed that some protesters broke through police lines and got too close to the presidential palace. Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo said: "They broke through the barbed wire, the police reacted and fired tear gas straight away, this has been an issue for the protesters as they are not allowed near the palace." "There was no sign of violence, but the police did not take any threats as people got closer to the walls", said our reporter. Thousands had taken to the streets waving Egyptian flags, chanting for the downfall of the president and denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi emerged, for having "sold the revolution" that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year. The strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries. "Stand up to tyranny" Also on Tuesday, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of expression in the draft constitution. The move, according to independent daily Al-Tahrir, aims at "standing up to tyranny". The country's privately owned TV networks are planned their own protest on Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day. A November 22 decree issued by Morsi expanding his powers and enabling him to put to a mid-December referendum a draft constitution rejected by liberals has sparked strikes and deadly protests. The charter has become the focal point of a political and ideological battle in Egypt between Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamic allies and the largely secular-leaning opposition. "The country is deeply divided over Morsi's legitimacy, the opposition are saying they are not against his election which was legitimate, but his actions and decrees are not legitimate," said our reporter. Morsi's decision has not only placed his decisions beyond judicial oversight but also barred any judicial body from dissolving the panel that drafted and approved the new constitution, sparking a conflict with the country's judges. As he faces his worst crisis since taking office in June, Morsi insists the measures are aimed at ending a tumultuous transition following the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in early 2011. But his opponents have accused him of choosing the same path of autocracy that finally cost Mubarak his presidency. The decision to go to a referendum on December 15 caused further upheaval, including within the judiciary itself. On Monday, the Supreme Judicial Council said it would ensure judicial supervision of the referendum, despite calls for a boycott by some of their colleagues including the influential Judges Club, an association that represents judges nationwide.

White House rejects GOP plan

House Republicans offered their own proposal Monday in the heated battle to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, but it was quickly rebuffed by President Barack Obama's administration for not demanding more from the nation's wealthiest taxpayers. The GOP plan promises $2.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade, including $800 billion from tax reform, $600 billion from Medicare reforms and other health savings and $600 billion in other spending cuts, House Republican leadership aides said. It also pledges $200 billion in savings by revising the consumer price index, a measure of inflation. House Speaker John Boehner called it a "credible plan that deserves serious consideration by the White House." The move follows spitting back and forth in recent weeks, with each side claiming the other isn't sincere about striking a deal to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts in January, a scenario many economists say would hurt the U.S. economy. Senior Obama administration officials slammed the Republican plan, calling it a step backward in negotiations and not worthy of its own counteroffer because it isn't serious enough. White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer criticized it for not meeting "the test of balance." Another Obama spokesman, Jay Carney, earlier said the president "will not sign a bill that extends those tax rates for the top 2%," as the GOP proposal would do. "Until the Republicans in Congress are willing to get serious about asking the wealthiest to pay slightly higher tax rates, we won't be able to achieve a significant, balanced approach to reduce our deficit," Pfeiffer said. Republicans make budget counter-offer Republicans offered the plan amid pressure for a House vote -- which Boehner has so far prevented -- on a measure already approved by the Senate to extend tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year and to allow rates to return to Clinton-era levels for wealthier households. Lower tax rates set in 2001 and 2003 were extended for two years as part of budget talks in 2010. In line with his stances during his first term and re-election campaign, Obama's deficit-reduction plan would increase tax revenue by almost $1 trillion over 10 years, a significant cut of a $4 trillion overall deficit reduction goal. In addition to adding a $50 billion stimulus package, his proposal closes loopholes, limits deductions, raises the estate tax rate to 2009 levels and increases tax rates on capital gains and dividends. Yet Republicans, led by Boehner, have objected to any increase in tax rates, even for the wealthiest Americans. They have said an agreement must include major reforms of entitlement programs such as the Medicare and Medicaid government-run health-care programs for senior citizens, the disabled and the poor. Their plan offered Monday proposed $800 billion in deficit savings through tax reform, including an unspecified amount of revenue raised by eliminating tax deductions and loopholes. The GOP letter said the offer is based on a framework proposed last year by Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and one-time White House chief of staff who co-chaired a bipartisan deficit reduction panel appointed by Obama in 2010. "This is by no means an adequate long-term solution, as resolving our long-term fiscal crisis will require fundamental entitlement reform," the letter said. "Indeed, the Bowles plan is exactly the kind of imperfect, but fair middle ground that allows us to avert the fiscal cliff without hurting our economy and destroying jobs." In his response, Pfeiffer said the Republican proposal "includes nothing new and provides no details on which deductions they would eliminate, which loopholes they will close or which Medicare savings they would achieve." "Independent analysts who have looked at plans like this one have concluded that middle class taxes will have to go up to pay for lower rates for millionaires and billionaires," he said. And Bowles denied any direct connection to the GOP proposal, saying it reflected his view of a middle-ground approach a year ago but "circumstances have changed since then." "It is up to negotiators to figure out where the middle ground is today," Bowles said. Recent posturing on both sides -- such as Boehner saying this weekend he was "flabbergasted" by Obama's plan -- reflects mistrust built up over two years of deficit wars that have left Congress with a reputation for dysfunction. In 2011, Republicans demanded major budget cuts before they authorized a hike in the federal debt ceiling, a fight that contributed to a U.S. credit rating downgrade. The end of that crisis was a temporary fix that set up the current crisis, which sets the stage for sharp and widespread tax increases and the start of budget cuts of $1 trillion over 10 years if there is no agreement. Experts have said failing to reach a fiscal cliff deal and devise a framework for a broader deficit reduction package to be negotiated when the new Congress is seated in January will cause economic turmoil and threaten the U.S. credit rating. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that middle-class families would pay about $2,000 a year more in taxes without action. According to a CNN/ORC International Poll released last week, 56% of respondents said higher taxes were a fair tradeoff if it helps lower-income people, while 36% said taxes should be kept low to create jobs. Another survey, by ABC News and the Washington Post, showed two thirds of respondents support Obama's call for holding down tax rates for everyone except the wealthiest Americans. So what happens next? Senior Obama administration officials said Monday the GOP's plan was a nonstarter, primarily because they said it would actually lower tax rates for those in the top 2% income bracket and was too short on specifics. But even with no more offers officially in the works, both sides will keep talking, the officials said. That may happen as soon as Monday night, when all members of Congress are invited to a holiday reception at which they can talk to, among others, the president himself.

Pakistan: Police, public join in harasing Ahmadis

In the latest incident of persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, a group of armed men belonging to a hardline sect vandalised 120 graves at an Ahmadi cemetery, and assaulted a security guard and a gravedigger in the capital of Punjab province Lahore, members of the Ahmadi community said on Monday. The group of about 15 armed men, who reportedly belonged to the Deobandi sect, entered the Ahmadi graveyard at Model Town in Lahore at 10 pm on Sunday and severely beat up the security guard and gravedigger. The men, who were armed with pistols, then smashed or removed the headstones of about 120 graves before they left the cemetery. The men told those present in the cemetery that Ahmadis could not have Quranic inscriptions on their headstones as they were “not Muslims”. The two injured men were later taken to a nearby private hospital. Police went to the cemetery only on Monday morning to carry out an investigation, members of the minority Ahmadi community said. However, police have not yet registered a case. Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya spokesman Salimuddin condemned the act and said such incidents had made Ahmadis vulnerable across Pakistan. He demanded a speedy investigation of the incident and action against those responsible. This is the third incident this year of Ahmadi graveyards being vandalised by members of hardline groups. Earlier, cemeteries in Hafizabad and Jeranwala districts of Punjab were targeted. Deobandi clerics are of the view that Ahmadis are non-Muslims and the headstones of their graves should not have Quranic inscriptions or Islamic prayers. In the past, clerics removed the headstones or blackened them with paint at several places in Punjab, which is Pakistan’s most populous province. Leaders of the Ahmadi community said a 1992 ruling by the Supreme Court had allowed them to inscribe some Quranic verses on their graves. This year, police had removed Quranic inscriptions from several Ahmadi mosques and shops run by members of the community after receiving complaints from the public. Pakistan’s Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but were declared non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment in 1974. A decade later, they were barred from proselytising or identifying themselves as Muslims. Some 1.5 million Ahmadis live across the country.

Pakistan's disappearing temples and churches

Rights activists say that places of worship for minorities in Pakistan are either rapidly disappearing or are subject to negligence by the state. A pre-Partition Hindu temple was recently razed in Karachi. Hindus in the Pakistani city of Karachi demanded retribution after one of their temples and some houses were reportedly demolished on Sunday in one the busiest areas of the city. Pakistani authorities say that a court order allowed some buildings to be demolished but they deny that the temple was razed. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Pakistan Hindu Council told the media that there had been a long-running legal dispute between a builder and the Hindu residents of the area over the land. He said that the land belonged to the Hindu residents and not to the builder as claimed by the authorities. Abdul Hai, a senior official of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Karachi, told DW that the court order did not allow the builder to demolish the buildings. "There is no complete judgment on the dispute yet," Hai said.Hindus make up 2.5 percent of the 174 million people living in Pakistan. The majority of them, over 90 percent, live in southern Sindh province. It is not the first time in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that a temple or a church has been demolished by members of the majority Muslim community for commercial or religious purposes. Rights organizations in Pakistan report widespread social and cultural discrimination against minorities. Religious extremism Experts say that the worshipping places of Pakistani minorities are being increasingly targeted not only by Islamic extremists but also by common Pakistanis. Attacks on the members of religious minority groups and their holy places have increased manifold in the country over the years. Amarnath Motumal, Vice Chairperson of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission's Sindh Chapter, and also a member of the minority Hindu community, told DW "religious extremism" was the main cause of attacks on Hindus and their holy places. "These people think that by attacking Hindus or their places of worship, they have earned a place in heaven," he said, adding that Pakistani Hindus "are very scared and not getting any help from anywhere." Hai also agreed with Motumal: "Sometimes there are commercial reasons behind these attacks. But most of the time, the temples and churches are attacked for religious reasons," Hai said. "Religious fanaticism is growing in Pakistan and religious extremist groups are getting stronger by the day. Unfortunately, the government is not doing anything to protect minorities and their places of worship." Karachi-based columnist and writer Peerzada Salman told DW that the one of the first temples was demolished in the early 1990s as a reaction to the destruction of the Babri Mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya in 1992. “It all began after Hindu extremists demolished the Babri Mosque. As a reaction, not only Hindu temples but a number of churches were also destroyed in Pakistan.” Cultural heritage Rights activists also point out at the negligence of the government to look after these places, many of which are historical and cultural landmarks. Experts see the demolition of these temples and churches as the destruction of the region's rich and diverse culture. "There is a mandir (temple) in the Malir area of Karachi which was a fine architectural piece of work. The statues of Hindu deities in the temple were delicately sculpted. When the temple was attacked, people also destroyed the statues," Salman said. "These are not just places of worship; they are Pakistan's architectural heritage.” Salman further criticized the government for not investing in the upkeep of these sites and instead closing them down. Experts say that there are still hundreds of temples and churches in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan which need state support. They say that the government is either too afraid of extremists or lacks the will to save these places.

Hindus and Sikhs - homeless Afghan citizens

For hundreds of years, Hindus and Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan. But even after the fall of the Islamist Taliban regime, they face growing discrimination, forcing many to leave. Sometimes you can recognize them on the streets, usually because of their black or wine-red turbans and opulent beards. Others look no different from the rest of the pedestrians, aside from the fact that they may be homeless. Hindus and Sikhs are a religious minority in Afghanistan. But, despite being there for centuries, they are discriminated against for their beliefs. The war years forced many people belonging to these two non-Muslim minorities to leave the country. 'Brothers' Some, however, returned after the Taliban were overthrown. Arandar Singh is one such person. The 50-year-old Sikh was born in Kunduz. He owns a shop and wears a black turban and a long, black beard. Other than that, he wears typical Afghan clothing. Singh sees himself as a part of Afghan society and calls the local residents his brothers. "We are treated well by the government and the locals. Work and daily life are satisfactory. We also pursue our religious obligations," says Singh.People of a different faith, he says, are welcomed as neighbors by the Muslim majority. In Afghanistan, Muslims make up 99 percent of the population. Most people see Hindus and Sikhs as Afghans and appreciate that they stay out of all the political machinations. According to Ahmad Farid, a resident of Kunduz, the Hindus and Sikhs are "very simple people who do their work and don't cause trouble." He says they are very open and friendly and that he has never experienced bad behavior on their part. "We have to respect that they have a different religion because that is an Afghan tradition - and they respect ours," Farid points out. Singh says that he has friendly relations with his neighbors and, despite religious differences, no problems have cropped up. But the actual problem for both minorities is that they have no property and no houses, he says quietly. For this reason, they have to live in temples, the so-called daramsaal. This is also where their children go to school. Homeless "Even today, no one in Kunduz has offered us a house or property. We have complained about that often and still demand that people who live in temples get land, but we have no private property," says Singh. Hindus and Sikhs do not belong to the same religion, but due to their small numbers, they visit the same temples and belong to the same community. They are also viewed as one and the same group by other Afghans. And one problem unites them: the fact that they own no property. Mid November, they organized a protest march to demand a piece of property to build a crematorium. They chanted "Down with the government. Aren't we also Afghans?""When you don't even get a cemetery, that means you're not welcome in your own country," says Darniwar Singh, a Sikh. "We have no crematorium to cremate our dead and perform our rituals. When someone dies, we have to burn them in a temple," he explains. "But then, our Muslim neighbors complain about the smell and the smoke. "The mayor of Kabul has promised to make land available for rituals and a park and build homes. Something that is urgently needed." 'Over our dead bodies' The property, which the government has promised, however, already belongs to the Afghan Karokhail clan, and they have reacted sharply to the government's concession. A visibly outraged clan leader said he possessed the official title to the property and had no intention of giving it up. "We do not accept this. Ten thousand families live here and you can only get the land over our dead bodies, even if we have to fight to the death. The president personally decreed that we may live here," he said. The clan leader refers to rights granted to himself and to clan members.

Cricket To Become Part Of The Curriculum In Afghanistan

was one of the few sports in Afghanistan to survive the Taliban. Now, the wildly popular sporting import is poised to leave the playground and enter the classroom. Afghanistan's Education Ministry is teaming up with the country's Cricket Board (ACB) to make cricket a compulsory class in Afghan schools as early as next January. According to the board's chief executive officer, Bashir Stanikzai, the idea is to help develop the sport in Afghanistan, spot talent, and turn the country into a force in the international cricketing arena. "We want to develop cricket in a proper way, and schools will be a big project," he says. If we succeed in developing cricket in schools, we are quite sure that we will get good players in the country. And it will have a social value as well, especially for those who love this game but don't get a chance to play." Cricket came into its own only recently after it found acceptance under the hard-line Islamist regime. After the Taliban's fall in 2001 the sport flourished when the children of Afghan refugees returned to the country after learning to play cricket in neighboring Pakistan. Since the national cricket squad was first formed in 2001, Afghanistan has shown that it has the potential to become a major player. In 2010, it secured qualification to the prestigious 2010 World Twenty20 competition, and is ranked among the world's top teams in that category. Now, there is even talk that Afghanistan's cricketers could soon achieve test-playing status.
National Heroes
Although Afghanistan has not yet established national cricket leagues, it regularly organizes domestic tournaments among the country's numerous clubs. The matches usually attract a full house of spectators, many of whom regard cricket players as national heroes and children's idols. A recent nationwide survey indicated that nearly 75 percent of respondents consider cricket their favorite sport. Many of those questioned supported the idea of cricket being taught in schools. In October, the board organized its first month-long training classes for potential cricket instructors and similar trainings for coaches and umpires are due to start on December 15. "We are sending cricket kits for students that consist of plastic bats and balls, and other cricket equipment especially made for children," says Stanikzai.Some of the country's top professionals are willing to lend a helping hand. Noorulhaq Malekzai, the captain of Kabul-based Al-Masafi team, says he "would be more than happy" to assist the coaches. Malekzai, a batsman who has represented his country in numerous international tournaments, believes officials "should not wait until all conditions are perfect to launch their plan." "If there is a will to play, you can play cricket with the most basic equipment," he says. "As they say, 'just do it.'" "There are so many children eager to play cricket," Malekzai adds. "You can see them playing in the streets, Many schools have small sports grounds. In the beginning, a pair of bats, a pair of balls, a pair of leg pads, and uniforms should be enough for an entire team of players. Of course, it's a far cry from international standards, but it is just enough to start professional careers in cricket."
'Like A Dream Come True"
Officials have yet to work out the details, such as what age group they should target, and how many hours a week the children should be taught cricket during physical education classes. The ACB and the Education Ministry are expected to finalize arrangements "within days" before starting the first cricket lessons at several schools across five provinces in January 2013. Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Kunduz, and Nangarhar provinces have been chosen due to their relatively developed cricket infrastructure. By the end of 2013, the project is expected to expand into six more provinces. "We hope these schools will be a success story and serve as role model to the rest of the country," says Stanikzai. Fitratullah, a young boy who like many Afghans goes by one name, looks forward to that day. But for now he and his friends are honing their skills with a homemade bat on a dusty road in the eastern town of Jalalabad. "We have only two special cricket academies in the province and they don't have space for everyone and besides they charge money," Fitratullah says. "If cricket becomes a school subject for free, it would be like a dream come true for many kids."

Many Afghans Return Home From Iran, But Not By Choice

Earlier this year, Iran threatened to expel Afghan refugees and migrant workers in response to Afghanistan's signing a strategic security pact with the United States. Some 190,000 Afghan refugees have been forced out of Iran so far this year, and hundreds more are being expelled each day.

LeT founder targets Hina Rabbani Khar

Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has criticized foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar for promising to take action against him if India provides evidence, saying the Pakistan government had been unable to resolve outstanding issues like the Kashmir issue. Saeed, named by India as the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, claimed that evidence against him provided by India had been "dismissed" by Pakistani courts. In the four years since the attacks in Mumbai, India "has been unable to provide any evidence against me in connection with the case. The documents provided by India as evidence could not stand in court and were dismissed by Lahore HC as propaganda. A similar case was also made by the SC," Saeed told the Urdu newspaper Ummat. who now heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, was placed under house arrest for less than six months after the UN Security Council declared the JuD a front for the LeT in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. He was freed on the orders of the Lahore HC. The LeT founder was subsequently detained for incidents that occurred in Pakistan but let off again.

Abuse reported at Indian garment factories

Workers provide evidence of exploitation and harsh work conditions at a national tribunal.

Pakistan's Hindu mandir controversy: Despite evidence, military official denies temple demolition

The Express Tribune
The Military Estate Office, which assisted a private builder in the demolition of a Hindu temple and houses in Karachi’s Soldier Bazaar, on Saturday continue to deny that the pre-partition house of worship was razed in the operation. Despite debris lying all over the compound, the president’s notice and the angered Hindu community’s protests, Director of Military Lands and Cantonment Zeenat Ahmed insisted that the Shri Rama Pir Mandir has not been damaged. “Of what I have been told by my people, the temple is still standing and is untouched,” she said. The director said that the deities were all in sound condition. “The people who had deities in their homes had deliberately put them in front of the debris of the damaged houses. This was done to present a wrong picture that the temple was destroyed.” She said that the houses were encroachments and they were removed when a builder approached them to assist him in removing illegal occupants from his land. “The temple was already in a bad condition. The encroachers were asked to vacate the land but when they did not, action was taken against them. But the temple, which was already in bad shape, was not touched.” Meanwhile, enraged members of the Hindu community said such statements only went further in hurting the sentiments of the minority. A resident of the area, Ashok Kumar, said that it was a joke that the police and some people were denying the demolition of the temple. “Our temple has been damaged but we are getting blamed for staging a drama.” Sindh Vice Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amarnath Motumal, said that it was condemnable that instead of reaching out to the affected people, the officials were refusing to admit what they had done. “I have attended several events in the temple. Whether a temple is 30 years old or 100 years old, no one has the right to desecrate it. We will not tolerate this.” Meanwhile, Ahmed retracted from her statement on Saturday regarding the temple being old grant property, and said that she has no knowledge about the ownership of the temple.