Monday, December 17, 2012

Pakistan’s Shias : At the receiving end of fanaticism

The Hindu
As chilling as the killing of Shias by Pakistani terrorists, who want them to be declared non-Muslims, is the general acceptance of sectarian violence Pakistan’s Shias are so regularly killed in targeted attacks that counting the numbers who were thus killed in 2012 is an uphill task. But just to give an idea, even before the start of the Muharram month, when anti-Shia violence is usually routinely anticipated and accepted as a given, the numbers killed had crossed 389 — the number of people the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says died in sectarian violence in 2011. This time, the terrorists were emboldened enough to announce their intent. Ahead of Muharram, a number of Shias received text messages saying ‘Kill, Kill Shias.’ Sure enough, the self-appointed deciders of who is or is not a Muslim struck, killing 23 in two separate bomb blasts early on in the Muharram month. RELENTLESS TARGETING Through the year, terrorists have been relentless in going after Shias; be it in Parachinar along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Gilgit-Baltistan, Quetta, Karachi or the garrison town of Rawalpindi. The clinical manner in which the terrorists have been going about their “mission” has been chilling, generating enough disquiet among the members of the community to take to the streets on December 8 outside the United Nations headquarters in New York protesting the “genocide in Pakistan.” Of all Shias, the Hazaras are sitting ducks, their distinctive Mongloid features marking them out. They are pulled out of buses and shot down often enough to force many to leave the country. In all other Shia killings too — except the attacks on Muharram processions — they are identified by the killers from among large groups of people, by the self-flagellation scars acquired by Shia men during the Muharram mourning rituals. The video footage of one such attack on the Karakoram Highway earlier this year shows a convoy of buses being stopped by gun-toting terrorists. Unhurriedly, the terrorists — dressed in Army fatigues — ask the passengers to furnish their national identity cards to single out those with Shia names. The grainy video does not clearly show this but some accounts of the attack claim the passengers were made to recite a particular prayer which Shias say differently. Thereafter, the ‘kameez’ (shirts) of the men were lifted to check for self-flagellation marks. Their Shia identity established, they were lined up and killed amid chants of “kafir, kafir; Shia kafir” (infidels, infidels; Shia are infidels). In this particular attack, three Sunni men were also killed for trying to defend the Shias. More chilling than the actual violence is the general acceptance of such incidents. Apart from the momentary media coverage, perfunctory editorials and outpouring of angst on various social media platforms when an incident like this happens, not much national debate ever takes place over Shia killings. But it may not help very much either, going by the zero difference that the national debate over Malala’s shooting has made. Unlike other persecuted communities, the Shias — who constitute about 20 per cent of the population — are not down and out socially or politically. “The President, Chairman of Senate and National Assembly Speaker — three constitutional office-holders in the country — are Shias but they seldom speak up for the community for fear of losing political clout or support of non-Shias. Similar apathy exists in the media [where many honchos are Shias]. Many of my colleagues do not speak about sectarian issues for fear of being branded fundamentalists/extremists,” rues Baqir Sajjad Syed of Dawn newspaper. According to Islamic Research Institute Director-General Khalid Masud, Shias have traditionally been leading contributors to the intellectual discourse among the subcontinent’s Muslims. Yet, a recent Pew Research Centre study showed that 50 per cent of Pakistanis do not accept Shias as Muslims. Though Shia-Sunni differences are not new to the subcontinent, Pakistan’s penchant for allowing geo-politics to be played out in its backyard has exacerbated the tensions; particularly since the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that quickly followed. IRAN REVOLUTION While the Iranian Revolution, according to historian Tahir Kamran, seemingly “emboldened” Pakistan’s Shias who “abandoned the Shia tradition of political quietism,” the Afghan jihad against the Soviets had the Saudis bankroll the then military ruler Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation project which encouraged the “Sunnification of Pakistan.” “Not only ‘awakened’ but ‘emboldened’ in the wake of the Revolution’s success in Iran, the Shia were public and vociferous in putting forward demands for ‘rights and representation’, trusting in Khomeini’s support, which he quite lavishly extended to them. Former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Agha Shahi revealed: ‘Khomeni once sent a message to Zia-ul Haq, telling him that if he mistreated the Shia, he [Khomeni] would do to him what he had done to the Shah’,” Mr. Kamran wrote in an essay in the publication Sectarian Militancy in Pakistan. The Saudi-backed effort to turn Pakistan into not just a Sunni country but a Deobandi Sunni stream — that, too, of the puritanical Wahabbi-Salafi order — clashed directly with this Shia assertiveness in Pakistan. An early point of clash arose when Zia made it compulsory for all Muslims to pay zakat (a tax to support charity) to the state. “Shia jurisprudence regards this as a personal matter … and a very large number of Shias organised to demand that they be excluded … This Shia movement was given some support by Iran … While the Shias won that round …, a line had been drawn that has continued to become darker and bloodier with time,” wrote Pakistani-American writer Omar Ali in an article on ‘Shias and their future in Pakistan.’ SAUDI-BACKED ‘SUNNIFICATION’ A native of Jhang — the hub of anti-Shia terror networks like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and its breakaway Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — Prof. Masud maintains that the anti-Shia rhetoric began much earlier as he recalls hate literature against Shias being circulated from the 1950s in this central Punjab district. So the ground was fertile for Saudi-backed ‘Sunnification’ and this made Shias launch their own militant outfit, clearly sharpening the divide. Technically banned, the SSP and the LeJ have a free run with the former functioning under the new name, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). The SSP — which has contested elections — has a vote bank and the ASWJ claimed that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won the recent by-elections in Punjab with its help. Such alliances debilitate political parties’ ability to adopt zero tolerance towards terrorism. All this notwithstanding, the anti-Shia rhetoric has till date not percolated into the curriculum Islamised under Zia. “In fact, many in the Pakistani middle class still have no clear idea of where the anti-Shia polemic is coming from. It was not part of our education. While Shias were a minority sect, their version of Karbala and the martyrdom of Husain was accepted …,’’ writes Mr. Ali adding that Saudi Wahhabis have a well-developed anti-Shia polemic that brands Shias as heretics. While SSP & Co want Shias to be declared ‘non-Muslims’ like the Ahmadis, Dr. Masud maintains this is unlikely as the Shia community is much larger than the Ahmadis. Ironically, Shia parliamentarians had supported the law against Ahmadis and today their community faces a similar threat — a stark reminder of the eternal truth in Martin Neimoller’s Holocaust poem ‘First they came…’
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

India: Sharp rise in rapes, molestations in 4 yrs
Crimes against women such as rape and molestation shot up between 2008 and 2012, while cases of murder dipped, according to a white paper released by the NGO Praja Foundation. If the last four years are taken into consideration, vehicle thefts have gone up substantially as well.
Activists say that in most instances of crime against women, the perpetrators are acquainted with the victim. "Few cases of rape or molestation are committed by complete strangers. In a majority of cases, it has been observed that the accused is a parent, relative, neighbour or a man who made false promises of marriage to the victim," said a women's rights activist. "When penal action isn't taken against a sex offender immediately, it emboldens him."According to data with Praja, north central Mumbai (Vile Parle-Bandra-Kurla) had the highest number of rape cases in 2008 and 2012. In 2009, this was the case with south central Mumbai (Chembur-Sion Koliwada-Mahim) and in 2010, south Mumbai (Worli-Byculla-Colaba-Malabar Hill).
The Amboli molestation case of October 2011, where Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez were murdered when they tried to protect their female friends from harassment, drew strong reactions from across the globe. But a special squad to curb eve-teasing, which was launched with much fanfare in the west region, has lost steam. This August, the Bombay high court held that courts should not show any leniency when deciding cases where a woman's modesty was outraged and action against those found guilty should serve as a deterrent to others. The high court was hearing an appeal filed by Namdeo Agarkar against the verdict of a special judge, who sentenced him to six months in jail and levied a fine for trespassing into a woman's home and trying to force himself on her. Commenting on Praja's statistics, an IPS officer said Mumbai police's crime branch was well-equipped with special units for the protection of minors, women and senior citizens.

Are Delhi’s Buses Safe For Women?

If you’re a woman, you’re not safe on public buses in Delhi. If you get raped, it’s probably your fault. That’s what Delhi’s public transport riders had to say Monday afternoon, when asked about yet-another heinous crime against a woman in north India – this time, it was a 23-year-old woman, who was riding a bus when she was gang-raped by four men on Sunday night. The woman had boarded a chartered bus, one of the many private bus networks that ply Delhi, with a 28-year-old male friend in Munirka, a south Delhi neighborhood. While on the bus, she was raped by four men, according to the police. When the woman’s friend tried to defend her, he was beaten with an iron rod. The two were than stripped of their clothing and thrown off the bus onto a national highway. The woman is now in critical condition, hospital officials said Monday. “It’s the girl’s weakness in most cases,” said Ram Singh, a portly middle-aged man who was messily chewing tobacco while waiting at the Connaught Place bus stop in Delhi. “They become friends and then they fight. Sudden, unknown attacks are usually a minority of the cases. In most cases, it’s the girl’s fault,” he said. His views were echoed by most other men waiting for the bus. Another passenger at the crowded bus stop, Mohan Bharat, 60, a retired corporate employee, said he believed that the law is fundamentally weak in Delhi. “Ten years ago, Delhi was worse then the smallest of cities,” he said. “This is a result of the impotence of the government. Everything is left loose in the name of freedom.” Chhaya Sharma, the deputy police commissioner for Delhi, emphasized at a news conference on Monday that the bus was not a regular public bus. Ms. Sharma said the victims got on the off-duty chartered bus when the driver called out to them, saying he could go to the Palam or Dwarka areas. In a rush to get home, the woman and her friend each paid the 10 rupee fare (20 U.S. cents) and boarded the bus. A quarrel ensued between a few men who were already seated on the bus and the two new passengers, after which the young woman was raped and the man beaten up. The two were then “dumped” by Mahipalpur on National Highway 8, she said. Ms. Sharma appealed to the public to help identify the bus using the CCTV footage the police have. “We are following up on the leads we have, and I would like to assure you that we are trying to crack this case as soon as possible.” Delhi’s public bus system is used by nearly 7 million people a day, according to government figures. As of 2010, about 50 percent of the buses were government run buses and 40 percent private buses. While the breakdown between male and female passengers is not available, women are clearly a small minority. That’s because buses, whether public or private, are not friendly to women, female riders say. Remnants of a rusted sign asking passengers to reserve seats for women could be spotted on a public Delhi Transport Corporation bus that stopped in Connaught Place on Monday. “Most of these signs are usually ripped off,” says Manju, 45, a female passenger who was getting off the green-line bus. “My daughter, who is in 11th grade, for the lack of anything else, takes the bus from our house to her school every day. Every day, I live in tension and anxiety until she gets home.” When girls are teased or groped on buses and they report it to their parents, their parents usually blame the girl by saying “she probably smiled or brought it upon herself,” said Ms. Manju, who declined to give her last name. Delhi needs to start running women-only buses to alleviate the problem, she said. A few years ago, a Delhi-based nongovernment organization, Jagori, mapped the safety of women in public spaces in the city. In its survey, 80 percent of the 500 female respondents reported they had faced sexual harassment in buses and other public transport. Many women in Delhi avoid the buses altogether. “Never. I’ve never traveled on buses,” said Smriti Sharma, 20, who was standing outside the Khan Market Metro station. “My friends who take the bus tell me that buses are usually not safe — they molest you, they grab you. Because the buses are always crowded, there are always chances.” In Mumbai, where she lived earlier, Ms. Sharma said she traveled by bus in the hours from 12:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., and it was “absolutely safe.” She may have been the only woman on the bus, she said, but no one harassed her. “There were men, they were looking at me, but they wouldn’t dare touch me,” she said. “Not even a comment.” The Delhi Metro system, which has women-only compartments, is considered much safer for women. Stations are manned by India’s Central Industrial Security Force, a national guard, and outfitted with CCTV security cameras, metal detectors, x-ray machines. “You can’t rape anybody in the Metro,” said Mohit Chowdhary, 21, who was standing with Ms. Sharma. “There are cameras everywhere,” he said, and women can hit an emergency button in compartments to call for help. Ms. Sharma said that the lack of safety on buses is due to women’s behavior, demeanor or dress, or even the lack of women’s-only buses. “It’s the men here,” she said. “The problem is with the men here.”

Delhi: Medical student gangraped in a bus, stripped and thrown out

In yet another incident of crime against women, a medical student was allegedly gangraped in a private bus in the Vasant Vihar ares of south Delhi on Sunday night and was then thrown off it. The victim was admitted to Safdarjung hospital and is said to be in a The girl and her male friend had boarded a private bus around 11 pm from Munirka in south Delhi. The male friend was going to drop the girl at her residence in Dwarka. The friend was first attacked in the bus and beaten, and then the woman was allegedly gangraped by five men. It is still not clear if the attackers were bus staff or were passengers. The friend registered a complaint with the Vasant Vihar police station at around 1.15 am. According to the police, the girl and her friend were stripped and thrown out of the bus after the assault. The friend's uncle, said, "They boarded the bus at the Munirka bus station... Bus staff was present. Within 10 minutes a few people started harassing the girl... When the boy revolted he was hit badly. The girl was gangraped in the bus cabin." The police have registered a case under section 376 and investigations are on.

Video: Newtown residents react to Obama's speech

White House says Obama will move swiftly on gun control after Newtown

First signs that Democrats are willing to take on pro-gun lobby as even NRA-endorsed senator Joe Manchin says 'we need action'
The White House promised a comprehensive series of measures, including gun control legislation, on Monday to prevent a recurrence of mass shootings such as the "horrific" attack in Connecticut that left 20 children and six teachers dead. The pledge came as the first cracks began to appear in the seemingly impregnable opposition to gun controls. Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama signalled that gun control would be a second term priority during a powerful speech on Sunday evening at a vigil for the victims in Newtown, at least two Democratic senators strongly identified with gun rights shifted position in favour of reform. The killings in Connecticut appear to be bringing about a change in mood that was not evident after shooting sprees over the last decade. They include Virginia Tech in 2007, the attack on congresswoman Gabby Giffords last year and the Aurora cinema shootings in July this year. The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, at the daily briefing went further than Obama the night before in elaborating what kind of measures might be taken. At the emotional vigil in Newtown, Obama appeared to abandon his reluctance to take on the gun lobby and delivered an impassioned speech in which he said change had to come. Addressing an audience of about 900 local people, including about 15 families of victims, at Newtown high school he talked about the disaster at Sandy Hook elementary school, in which "20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults" had died. Asking if the country had fulfilled its obligation to protect its children, he said: "The answer is no." He added: "In the coming weeks I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement, mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this." He did not specify what change he had in mind, or even whether it would include new legislation on gun control. But Carney, when asked what kind of measures the president had in mind, said: "It is a complex problem that will require a complex solution. No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem." Proposals that have been put forward since Friday range from the renewal of a lapsed ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and restricting the number of bullets in a clip. Other proposals suggest addressing how communities deal with mental health issues. Asked if gun control legislation would be part of this comprehensive package, Carney said it would be. Carney pointed out that Obama had long been an advocate of "common sense measures". Before his election in 2008, Obama had supported renewal of a 1994 ban on automatic weapons that lapsed in 2004. Asked whether the president would move to exploit the present mood or wait until he had dealt with issues such as the fiscal cliff stand-off and immigration reform, Carney suggested the former, reminding reporters that Obama had spoken in terms of "weeks". The hopes of gun reform advocates rose when two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, came out in favour of reform. Both had been staunchly in favour of gun rights. Manchin, in particular, was a surprise, given that he uses a picture of himself holding a rifle in his campaign literature, is backed by the National Rifle Association and, to publicise his opposition to trade legislation, once fire a shot through a copy of the bill. Manchin, who represents West Virginia, told MSNBC's Morning Joe show that the Connecticut shooting had changed the dialogue. "It's time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way. This has changed the dialogue and it should move beyond dialogue – we need action," Manchin said. He argued it was possible to protect gun ownership for hunting while banning other automatic weapons and large ammunition clips. "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle," Manchin said. "I don't know anyone that needs 30 rounds to go hunting. I mean these are things that need to be talked about." Warner, in an interview with CBS, expressed continued support the constitutional right to bear arms as enshrined in the second amendment. "I believe every American has second amendment rights; the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I've had a NRA rating of an 'A' but, you know, enough is enough," Warner said. "I think most of us realise that there are ways to get to rational gun control. There are ways to grapple with the obvious challenges of mental illness." While opposition to gun controls is strongest in the Republican party, part of the reason for the failure to get legislation through recently has been opposition from many Democrats fearful of upsetting the gun lobby. The Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, who led the push for the ban on automatic weapons in 1994, said on Sunday she will introduce a similar bill in January next year that will ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and the sale of clips containing multiple bullets. Another Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, is proposing restrict bullet clips to 10 rounds. Another Democratic congresswoman, Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a shooting spree, called for background checks on all gun sales, in particular at gun shows which are not subjected to such checks. A new poll in the Washington Post/ABC showed a shift in attitudes, with a majority, albeit slim, now viewing the shooting not as an isolated act but part of society's wider problems. But there is little change in views towards gun control. While a majority favour a ban on ammunition clips containing a large number of bullets, the poll shows support for gun ownership remains ingrained in America, with 71% opposed to a ban on the sale of handguns.

China urges Japan to properly handle tricky issues

China on Monday urged Japan to properly handle tricky issues between the two countries. The call from China's Foreign Ministry came one day after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) scored a landslide victory over the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in Sunday's House of Representatives election. "The Chinese side attaches importance to the direction of Japan's China policy," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing. "(We) hope Japan will deeply understand and appropriately address difficulties and issues between the two nations, and advance bilateral ties in a healthy and stable way in line with the principles and spirit established in the four China-Japan political documents," she said. The four political documents -- the China-Japan Joint Statement on Comprehensively Advancing Strategic and Reciprocal Relations, the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement, the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship and the Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration -- were signed by the two sides in 1972, 1978, 1998 and 2008, respectively. "We have noted the results of Japan's House of Representatives election," Hua said, adding that the China-Japan cooperative relationship, which is based on peace and stability, serves not only the interests of the two nations, but also the peace and development of Asia. "As important neighbors, China and Japan reached consensus on building a strategic and mutually beneficial relationship in 2006," she said. "Meanwhile, we also pay great attention to the direction of Japan's development," Hua said. After the election, Shinzo Abe, president of the LDP, is expected to reclaim his former role as prime minister soon. "(We) hope Japan will continue to follow the path of peaceful development and play a constructive role in regional peace, stability and development," she added.

Taliban attack on Peshawar airport shows fundamental change in militants' tactics

Afghanistan Sun
The latest Taliban attack on the Peshawar airport highlights the terror outfit's recent focus on higher-profile and official targets. Ten militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the airport with automatic weapons, grenades, and mortars late Saturday. Six people were killed after a six-hour stand off between the militants and Pakistani police and troops, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Even though the airport is used by civilians for local and international travel, it is also used by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) for operations in Pakistan's tribal belt - making it a strategic target for the TTP. According to security analysts, the attack on Peshawar airport indicates a fundamental shift in militant strategy. "This attack is a sign that militants have changed their tactics. Rather than attacking the common man, which entails greater condemnation, they have now started attacking the people or institutions that are supposed to protect the people," said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). "The attack in Peshawar underlines a security lapse," said Gul. However, the shift in strategy, the joint use of the airport, and its clear vulnerability should have alerted security forces, he added. Amir Rana, the Director of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, disagrees. "The surveillance level of the Army is in tact. That is why this attack was not as successful as Mehran," said Rana, referring to a May 2011 shooting carried out by the TTP against the Pakistan Naval Base Mehran in Karachi, where 15 militants killed 18 military personnel and wounded an additional 16. "Of course, we cannot completely stop these attacks - that will take time. But the capacity is there. This is fundamentally a question of coordination," said Rana.

Syria says Palestinians must not shelter 'terrorists' in camp
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Palestinians should not offer "shelter or assistance to terrorist groups" in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, state television said on Monday. His comments came after Ban's spokesman said the secretary-general was concerned at reports of an air strike by President Bashar al-Assad's forces on Yarmouk on Sunday in which activists said 25 people were killed. Syrian troops backed by tanks gathered on Monday outside Yarmouk, scene of clashes between Palestinians loyal to Assad and rebels supported by Palestinian fighters, activists said. Moualem said Palestinians should work to expel 'terrorists' - the label authorities give to anti-Assad rebels.

Bahrain Protesters Challenge Police in Capital

Security forces in Bahrain fired tear gas and arrested protesters Monday during marches in the traditional market area of the Gulf nation's capital, forcing many businesses to close. The clashes underlined the volatility of the tiny, strategic island nation, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, where the Shiite Muslim majority is demanding more say from the Sunni monarchy. The Interior Ministry said it made a "number" of arrests. Among them was rights activist Yousef al-Muhafedha, the acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said his wife Zainab al-Sairafi. Al-Muhafedha's arrest could stir more backlash, less than a week after a Bahrain court rejected an appeal to overturn the jail sentence of the rights center's director, Nabeel Rajab. The court cut one year from his three-year sentence on charges of encouraging "illegal gatherings" linked to the 22-month uprising against the kingdom's ruling system. On Monday, authorities set up checkpoints and expanded patrols across Manama before rallies Monday to mark an annual commemoration for two protesters killed in 1994. Separate groups of hundreds of protesters chanted slogans in the narrow streets of the city's market district. Some of the crowds were dispersed with tear gas and volleys of stun grenades. It's the latest attempt by Shiite-led protesters to stage marches in the heart of the capital. More than 55 people have been killed in unrest since February 2011, when Bahrain's majority Shiites escalated their fight for a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Egypt rights groups say constitution vote marred
Key Egyptian rights groups called Sunday for a repeat of the first round of the constitutional referendum, alleging the vote was marred by widespread violations. Islamists who back the disputed charter claimed they were in the lead with a majority of "yes" votes, though official results have not been announced. Representatives of the seven groups charged that there was insufficient supervision by judges in Saturday's vote in 10 of Egypt's 27 provinces and independent monitors were prevented from witnessing vote counts. The representatives told a news conference that they had reports of individuals falsely identifying themselves as judges, of women prevented from voting and that members of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood were allowed inside polling stations. They also complained that some polling centers closed earlier than scheduled and that Christians were denied entry to polling stations. Mohamed el-Baradei, Egypt's best known reform leader, was as frustrated by how the referendum was run as the rights groups. "Is a referendum held under insufficient judicial supervision, clearly tenuous security and the violence and violations we are witnessing the road to stability or playing with the country's destiny? the Nobel Peace Laureate and former U.N. nuclear agency chief wrote on his Twitter account. The vote capped a near two-year struggle over Egypt's identity since the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising. The latest crisis over the charter evolved into a fight — deadly at times — over whether Egypt should move toward a religious state under Morsi's Brotherhood and their ultraconservative Salafi allies, or one that retains secular traditions and an Islamic character. Underlining the tension, some 120,000 army troops were deployed to help the police protect polling stations and state institutions after clashes between Morsi's supporters and opponents over the past three weeks left at least 10 people dead and about 1,000 wounded. The draft would empower Islamists to carry out the most widespread and strictest implementation of Islamic law that modern Egypt has seen. That authority rests on the three articles that explicitly mention Shariah, or Islamic law, as well as obscure legal language buried in a number of other articles that few noticed during the charter's drafting but that Islamists insisted on including. According to both supporters and opponents of the draft, the charter not only makes Muslim clerics the arbiters for many civil rights, it also could give a constitutional basis for citizens to set up Saudi-style "religious police" to monitor morals and enforce segregation of the sexes, imposition of Islamic dress codes and even harsh punishments for adultery and theft — regardless of what the laws on the books say.For Islamists, the constitution is the keystone for their ambitions to bring Islamic rule, a goal they say is justified by their large victory in last winter's parliamentary elections. Morsi rejected opposition demands that he cancel the referendum. A statement by the seven rights groups called on the election commission to avoid the same type of violations in the second round and repeat the first round. "The vote counting took place took place in darkness," said Negad Borai, the head of one of the groups. He alleged the election commission did not investigate thousands of complaints on alleged violations and irregularities. The second and final round of voting on the charter is planned for Saturday Dec. 22. Some of the charges made by the seven groups were echoed in a statement issued by the National Council for Human Rights, a state agency, adding weight to the claims. It added that some polling centers did not have voters' lists, that vote-buying took place outside polling centers and that monitors' permits to be at polling stations were not recognized. While the charges are serious, they don't touch the wholesale vote fraud that defined Mubarak's 29-year rule. But, while the charges raise more questions about the legitimacy of the vote, it is unlikely that the state election commission will order a do-over. Some voters on Saturday said the presumed supervising judge at their polling centers refused to show them official documents to certify that they were indeed a judge. Others said some polling centers closed hours ahead of the 11 p.m. cutoff. Still others complained of suspected members of the Brotherhood whispering to voters inside polling stations to vote "yes." And some voters alleged some of the supervising judges were influencing voters to choose "yes." A group of women in Alexandria alleged the judge in their polling center was stalling to stop them from voting. The allegations of widespread violations came only hours after the Brotherhood claimed a majority of Egyptians who voted on the proposed Islamist-backed constitution have approved the document with a majority of about 57 percent. The state-owned Al-Ahram daily published similar unofficial results in its online edition. Turnout was unofficially estimated at around 32 percent — which if confirmed would be far lower than the presidential or parliamentary elections following Mubarak's fall. Official results are not expected until after the second round. But the Brotherhood, which has in the past accurately predicted election results, relied on vote tallies collected by its activists at the individual polling stations across the country. Wael Ghonim, an icon of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, summed up the Saturday vote in a Tweet he posed on his account: "Out of every 100 Egyptians, 69 did not take place in the referendum, 18 said 'yes' and 13 said 'no.'" Egypt's tenuous security was on display on Saturday and again on Sunday. Late Saturday, a mob of hardline Islamists known as Salafis attacked the Cairo offices of the liberal Wafd party, smashing windows and doors. Egypt's latest crisis began when Morsi issued a decree on Nov. 22 giving himself and the assembly writing the draft immunity from judicial oversight so the document could be finalized before an expected ruling to dissolve the panel by the nation's highest court. On Nov. 30, the document was passed by an assembly composed mostly of Islamists, in a marathon session despite a walkout by secular activists and Christians from the 100-member panel. On Sunday, the head of the nation's highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court, said he was prevented by Morsi's supporters from entering the tribunal's Nile-side building. The president's supporters have been staging a sit-in outside the court since Dec. 1, the day before the court was expected to rule to dissolve the constitutional panel. If the constitution is approved by a simple majority of voters, the Islamists empowered after the overthrow of Mubarak would gain more clout. The upper house of parliament, dominated by Islamists, would be given the authority to legislate until a new lower house is elected. If the draft proposal is rejected, elections would be held within three months for a new panel to write a new constitution. In the meantime, legislative powers would remain with Morsi, who won the presidency in June. The official website of Egypt's state television reported that 68 and 72 percent of voters cast "no" ballots in Cairo and Alexandria respectively, Egypt's two largest cities. The only other two provinces where the "no" vote won the majority were Gharbiyah and Daqahliya in the Nile Delta, north of Cairo.

Morsi: The new Pharaoh or a beacon of democracy?

So will there be democracy in Arab countries? That would seem unlikely in the immediate future.
We have again witnessed intense protests in Egypt following President Mohamed Morsi’s expanding his sphere of authority by issuing new decrees within the framework of constitutional amendments. Alarmed by Morsi’s expansion of his powers, people have again expressed their unease by holding protests in Tahrir Square. So why did Morsi resort to this new constitutional arrangement? Is he looking to make a gentle transition to a new period of dictatorship? Or is Morsi justified in his actions? We saw a deeply rooted dictatorship in Egypt over the past few decades. Like all well-rooted autocracies, the Mubarak regime had branches all over Egypt. But what happened to these branches following the removal of Hosni Mubarak? We have seen how influential figures from Mubarak’s system (and who have been of little assistance in Egypt’s transition to democracy) were openly favored and have an enjoyed an unofficial and unspoken immunity. It would perhaps have been unreasonable to expect powerful and poisonous cliques dating back decades to disappear overnight. The camel charges against the protestors in Cairo are certainly one of the more unforgettable images of the public uprising in Egypt. Those accused of responsibility in that action, in which several people lost their lives, were brought before the courts, but no convictions followed. So was Morsi, who clearly realized that the judiciary was not be trusted, expected to keep silent in the face of this? Of course not. Morsi took the steps required of him by the crowds protesting the release of the suspects in the camel charge incident and intervened in a system that had been corrupt for years. Whichever country it may be, any member of the forces involved in regime change has always had to take action in order to get rid of elements of the old regime, and put the new one on a proper footing. Bearing in mind the punishments meted out to remnants of the opposition in Marxist coups and transitions to communist regimes in the past, Morsi is in fact treating his own opposition with a great deal of moderation and again looking for a solution via constitutional means. An unfinished regime prepares the way for the sudden end of renewal. I am not for the moment unduly worried as Morsi needs more time and power to correct the deeply flawed structure he has inherited; bear in mind that Egypt under Mubarak was an autocratic dictatorship, and it is unrealistic to expect the deeply entrenched apparatus of that dictatorship to merely walk away from its decadeslong grasp on power with a smile and a cheerful wave goodbye. So will there be democracy in Arab countries? That would seem unlikely in the immediate future. In order for there to be a sound democracy in these countries, the conservative masses need to be told that democracy is compatible with Islam, that it does not reject Islam and that it is a guarantee for those who believe in a secular system. The Koranic verse “There is no compulsion in religion” is the greatest backing for secularism. Allah reveals in the Koran that, “To you your religion and to me mine. I’m not going to believe what you believe and you won’t believe what I believe.” Therefore, the supposedly theological pretext for forcing someone who does not wish to be a Muslim to convert is eliminated. When these countries can guarantee to their peoples that they will maintain their religious structures when they are democratic and secular, then we will see that a democracy in which everyone is equal is indeed possible. The writer is a peace activist. She graduated from istanbul University and hosts a TV show in Turkey.

Turkey: Is Atatürk Dead? Erdogan Islamism Replaces Kemalism

Asli Aydintasbas
The photograph shows a pair of men in dusty work clothes, saluting proudly as they stand at attention inside a gutted reinforced-concrete building. The caption, in Turkish, tells us that the picture was taken Nov. 10. Every year on that date, the entire country—schools, government offices, hospitals, even traffic—comes to a halt at 9:05 a.m., the exact minute of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death in 1938. The photo went viral on the Internet this year, desperately offered via Twitter and Facebook as proof that even though an Islamist government has ruled the country for the past decade, modern Turkey’s fiercely rationalist founder remains a source of inspiration to the masses.The question is how much longer Mustafa Kemal can remain on that pedestal. To the people of his country, Atatürk—the sobriquet means “father of the Turks”—has been both a national hero and an ideology, bolstered by decades of indoctrination in the schools and by his ubiquitous image in the form of busts, portraits, statues, figurines, T-shirts, currency, key chains, and even iPhone cases. A reformist Ottoman Army general, he led an independence struggle against the invading Greek, French, and Italian armies after the First World War, culminating in the establishment of a modern republic in 1923. Under Mustafa Kemal’s leadership, the young republic made a clean break from its Ottoman past nearly nine decades ago, ditching the caliphate for a secular regime and turning away from the empire’s former Arab territories in favor of an anti-clerical, pro-Western vision that became known as Kemalism. He pushed for women’s suffrage, decreed the alphabet’s conversion from Arabic to Latin overnight, established parliamentary government, declared war on Islamic zealotry long before jihadism became a global concern, even banned the Ottoman fez in favor of European-style hats. Turkish schoolbooks today summarize the changes he imposed as “the Atatürk revolutions.” Nevertheless, Mustafa Kemal’s staunchly secularist legacy is now being challenged by a new Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Free at last to espouse and promote his conservative Muslim faith publicly, the prime minister embodies the political aspirations of millions of Turks who have been alienated from the military-backed secular establishment for generations: the rural folk, the urban poor, conservative Muslim clerics, and the rising religiously conservative business classes. While studiously avoiding direct confrontation with Atatürk’s Westernized ideals, Erdogan and other pro-Islamist leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have inaugurated an era of deep political transformation. With the party’s encouragement, many Turks have come to regard Kemalism as an outmoded ideology unsuited to the needs of present-day Turkey’s dynamic society. “I don’t know if Atatürk himself is dead,” says liberal academic and commentator Mehmet Altan. “But Kemalism will eventually die, as Turkey democratizes.” Altan has argued for years against the Kemalist doctrine, calling instead for the creation of a “second republic” that would be less centralized, more inclusive of Kurds and Islamists, and less rigid in its secular and nationalist policies. That’s what’s already happening as the Erdogan government dismantles the Kemalist establishment. The military, once the country’s most powerful political force and the self-proclaimed guardian of secularism, has been relegated to the barracks and publicly reprimanded for the series of coups that have stunted democracy’s growth since Atatürk’s death. Religious conservatism is on the rise, and Ankara has turned its attention away from the country’s longstanding bid for European Union membership, seeking instead a more prominent role in the Middle East and the former Ottoman lands. Vestiges of the old Kemalist order—the headscarf ban on university campuses, restrictions on use of the Kurdish language, Soviet-style commemorations held in stadiums on national days—have nearly disappeared. And yet liberal democrats like Altan are not happy. Many feel that Erdogan’s government has lost its reformist drive, becoming authoritarian and single-mindedly Islamic instead. Intellectuals who once supported Erdogan against the military now complain about his efforts to control the media, his intolerance for dissent, and his halfhearted concessions to Kurdish demands. “Politics in Turkey has always been a struggle between the barracks and the mosque,” says Altan. “Because we never had a proper capitalist class, the Army represented the bourgeoisie, and the mosque represented the underprivileged. With AKP, we thought a democracy would emerge out of the mosque. But instead what we got was simply the revenge of the mosque.”
A year ago Altan finally became one of the many journalists who have lost their jobs for criticizing Erdogan. It’s the same penalty commentators used to incur for finding fault with Atatürk. Altan grieves for the fading of Turkey’s European dreams. Bringing European standards to Turkey’s democracy was the only possible solution for the conflict between the secularists and the Islamists, he says. “But the EU reforms have stopped, and the government’s Islamic reflexes are more obvious now, making the division even sharper.”The Kemalists appear to have lost their 90-year political battle. Hundreds of military personnel and hard-core secularists are currently in jail for alleged roles in various coup investigations. In last year’s general elections, the country’s top secular opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP)—founded by Atatürk himself—drew only 26 percent of the vote, versus 50 percent for the AKP. And although “insulting Atatürk” remains a crime under the Turkish penal code, prosecutors seldom if ever bother to file such charges these days.And yet somehow the old man himself is still going strong. “How many leaders are there around the world whose name, 74 years after his death, is still being tattooed on people’s bodies?” demanded Yilmaz Özdil when I asked him if Atatürk is dead. A diehard Kemalist, Özdil writes for Turkey’s top newspaper, Hürriyet, and is by all accounts the country’s most popular columnist. Just look around, he says. He’s not speaking only of the skin-art parlors that honor Nov. 10 by offering free renditions of Atatürk’s signature. People decorate their baby strollers and cars with stickers bearing the founder’s picture, and audiences seem insatiable for books and films about his life. The wave of Atatürk mania has a distinct undertone of defiance—a response to the frustrations of secular urbanites these days. “Saying you love Atatürk is code for saying you are afraid of a religious state,” says Altan. Tens of thousands of middle-class Turks joined a demonstration against the AKP government this past Oct. 29, the country’s Republic Day. Elderly women and students carried pictures of Atatürk and chanted in unison: “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!” While Erdogan watched a military parade at a stadium in Ankara, the protesters were being tear-gassed not far away. Finally breaking through police barricades, they marched to Atatürk’s mausoleum. Less than two weeks later, an estimated 400,000 Turks made pilgrimages to the secularist shrine. But Erdogan was far away, on a visit to Brunei. When critics in Parliament and the media accused him of avoiding the ceremonies, the prime minister brandished photos of the Turkish government–sponsored renovation of Kemal’s father’s old home in the Balkans and declared that the AKP’s economic-development policies have done more to ensure Atatürk’s legacy than the independence hero’s own party ever achieved. Regardless of the dwindling ranks who call themselves secular or Kemalist, surveys say Atatürk himself remains popular across the political spectrum. In one recent poll, 82.3 percent of respondents said they want “Atatürk principles and revolutions” included in the new constitution that is currently being drafted. “Whatever they say, his revolution has succeeded,” says Özdil. “Efforts to reverse it are creating a healthier interest in Atatürk.” In fact, it’s hard for Turks of any political affiliation to truly despise the republic’s founder. He was known as a lady’s man who loved to dance and drink, and yet his life had a melancholic quality. The 2008 film Mustafa upset many Kemalists with its rare but candid glimpse of the great leader’s private loneliness. The film portrayed him as subsisting on a daily diet of 3 packs of cigarettes, 15 cups of Turkish coffee, and 1 bottle of raki. A leading brand of the powerful Turkish liquor features an Atatürk look-alike on the label wearing a tux and visibly enjoying a glass. Secularists take pride in the image; in an age of religious conservatism and prohibitive taxation on alcohol, even drinking has become an act of political defiance. Turkey has an Atatürk for everyone. In contrast to the secularists’ idea of him, Islamists prefer to ignore his drinking and anti-religiosity, emphasizing instead his leadership on the battlefield against invading Western armies. Leftists picture him as an anti-imperialist with an anti-capitalist streak, while the country’s religious-minority Alevis consider him their defender against domination by hard-line Sunnis. Even the often-oppressed Kurds find good things to say about him. Over the past decade, imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan is said to have spent many hours musing to his lawyers about Kemalism, often concluding that much like Öcalan himself, Atatürk was misunderstood and isolated. And yet for all Atatürk’s enduring popularity, his vision is unlikely to survive the political climate change that is sweeping Turkey and the entire Middle East. The country has too many old internecine scores to settle—mass killings of Kurds in 1938, oppression of religious conservatives through most of modern Turkish history, massive human-rights violations following each of Turkey’s four military coups—all committed in the name of preserving Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s republic. A decade ahead of the republic’s centennial, Erdogan is floating what he calls the “2023 vision.” He envisions a complete overhaul of the state, scrapping the country’s parliamentary system and replacing it with an American-style tripartite government. And by all accounts, he intends to oversee the transformation personally. If he gets that wish, he will have remained in power for 20 years—five years longer than the father of the Turks himself. Turks can only ask themselves: what would Atatürk say?

Now is the time for gun control
In the wake of Newtown, President Obama has a chance to enact tougher measures
In the wake of the second deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history, in which 20 young children and six adults were murdered at Shady Hook Elementary School during a year in which there have been 12 other mass murders with guns in the United States, many are asking, will anything be done to reduce the carnage? First, let’s dispense with the notion that guns are irrelevant. Does our nation face unusually high rates of mass killings because we have so many more evil or dangerously mentally ill people? If you compare rates of crime and mental illness, you will find that the United States is not significantly different from other high-income countries. But violence in the U.S. is far more lethal because we make it too easy for criminals, the dangerously mentally ill and underage youth to get guns. U.S. homicide rates are nearly seven times higher than the average homicide rate among nations of similar wealth because our homicide rate by gunfire is 22 times higher. Parallel events with 24 hours of each other demonstrate the significance of gun availability. In China, a man who was described as mentally disturbed used a knife to attack and wound 22 school children, but all survived. Nearly all who were wounded in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School died. Some opponents of stronger gun laws claim that we’d have fewer mass shootings if more states allowed people to carry guns into schools, movie theaters and places of worship. But it stretches the imagination to think that the unusually high rate of mass murders in the U.S. is due to our gun laws being too strict. Most analysts paint a bleak picture about the politically obstacles to making meaningful reforms in U.S. gun laws. We’ve seen countless mass shootings followed by silence and inaction from elected officials. This is likely due to the media, politicians and some advocacy groups falling into predictable roles and rhetoric that highlight viewpoints at each end of the spectrum and a huge cultural divide about guns. But I am cautiously optimistic that the horror of 27 deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the numerous other mass shootings this year, and our extremely high rate of gun deaths will move us beyond the typical pro-gun vs. anti-gun debate by focusing on what the vast majority of gun owners and non-gun-owners agree upon. You wouldn’t realize from news coverage, but survey data indicate that three out of every four NRA members want all firearm purchases to be contingent upon the buyer passing a background check. Fixing the fatal flaw in federal guns laws that limit background checks to sales from licensed dealers happens to be at the top on the agenda of most gun violence prevention advocacy groups. Unregulated private gun sales benefit criminals, gun traffickers and the gun industry at the great expense of public safety and peace of mind. This reform could be implemented without disarming any truly law-abiding adult who is not dangerously mentally ill. Elected officials think they are following the wishes of gun-owning constituents by toeing the NRA line, but that is not always the case. What better person to speak for the large silent majority of gun owners than Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a long-time gun owner who understands like few others the consequences of our flawed gun laws? Kelly was one of the first to call on elected officials to enact sensible regulations on guns following this most recent mass murder. I expect that President Obama will change course from his first term and push for reforms that will help to keep guns from dangerous people and restrict weapons designed for military use to the military. But the logjam on the issue will only break if more of the silent majority of gun owners join a broad coalition that includes law enforcement, public health and a broad range of faith-based groups to demand fixes to our gun laws that will save lives without infringing on gun owners’ rights. Several studies have demonstrated that gun seller accountability measures reduce the number of guns diverted to criminals. Laws restricting access of guns to high-risk groups such as domestic violence perpetrators and underage youth are not foolproof, but they have been shown to save lives. The status quo on U.S. gun policy is failing to make us safe or free. It is costing too many lives, leaving countless children, families and communities fearful and traumatized. Let’s hope that our elected officials will heed Mark Kelly’s call to lead and enact more sensible gun policies. Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Why we should politicize the Newtown school shooting, starting right now

By Jeff Greenfield
Yahoo! News
Two events, each more than a century old, instruct us about how we should act in the face of what happened Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. On March 25, 1911, fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan. Because the owners had locked the doors and stairwells, in an effort to prevent theft and unauthorized work breaks, the garment workers were trapped in the fire; 146 of them, almost all young female immigrants, died. In the wake of the disaster, New York politicians--including future Governor Al Smith and future Senator Robert Wagner-- “exploited the tragedy.” How? By helping push through a series of reforms that made New York state a model of workplace safety. Little more than a year later, on April 15, 1912, the unsinkable ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, taking 1,522 passengers and crew members to the deaths. After the disaster, regulators and public officials “exploited the tragedy.” How? By insisting that ships carry enough lifeboats for all passengers (the Titanic, operating under then-current rules, had barely enough for half); by insisting that ships man their radios 24 hours a day; by better designs of hulls and bulkheads. A shocking event is exactly the right time to start, or restart, an argument about public policy. A story like the Newtown killings rivets our attention, forces it to the front our consciousness, insists that we sweep aside the thousand and one distractions that compete for our brain space, and demands that we ask: Is this how we want things to be, and, if not, what do we do about it? Consider a more recent example. On March 7, 1965, voting rights demonstrators on a March in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery were met by a phalanx of state troopers at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. They met the marchers with fists and billy clubs. A week later, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress. He made no apologies for “politicizing the tragedy.” Instead, he said: “At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.” The speech—which borrowed the famous assertion that “we shall overcome”—propelled the Voting Rights Act into reality and effectively ended 100 years of state-sanctioned repression. What those images from Selma did—as the images of police dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham had done in May of 1963—was to make real what for most of us had been an abstraction. The images said, This is what it means to be black in Alabama and seek the most elemental of civil rights. What happened in Newtown, I think, was very much the same story. The day after the shooting, I was with my grandson at his school’s book fair; I would wager that every parent, every teacher, every school staff member there looked at the kids, with their painted faces and their fists filled with cookies, and thought: This could happen to them. Those same thoughts were going through the minds of every parent dropping a child off at school on Monday, I imagine. This is why the words of President Barack Obama on Sunday struck such a responsive chord. But it must not be forgotten that in the days, months, and years before Newtown, the president has been something less than a profile in courage on the gun question. His response to a question on assault weapons during October’s town hall debate with Mitt Romney is best described as craven: “What I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally,” Obama said in part. “Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced. But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence.” You can understand the thinking: I can’t get a bill through Congress, it’s a waste of political capital, there are lots of Democrats who hunt and shoot in Ohio. But it does not change the fact that the triumph of the gun lobby has been a bipartisan affair. To be fair, Republicans have been at the forefront of a never-ending effort at the state and federal level to permit guns of all sorts at all sort of venues, from schools to national parks. Before Newtown, it was only a matter of time before some zealot proposed letting citizens purchase Predator drones with Hellfire missiles. The culture of hunting, and the legitimate case for self-protection, has too often been brushed aside by advocates of restricting gun ownership. But when a Second Amendment stalwart like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia endorses a national commission on gun violence and tweets:
Senator Joe Manchin ✔ @Sen_JoeManchin
This awful massacre has changed where we go from here. Our conversation should move beyond dialogue.
You know the Newtown murders can act as a hinge moment. Newtown forces us to look at the consequences of decisions--or indecision--squarely, unflinchingly. It forces us to ask ourselves, “What do we do in the face of this new evidence?” That is as far from exploitation as you can get.

Report Exposes 'Legal Wilderness' In Pakistani Tribal Areas

Amnesty International says Pakistan's government is failing to respond to complaints of thousands of human rights abuses in its semiautonomous tribal regions. In a report titled "The Hands of Cruelty," the group says people in the tribal areas are being terrorized by Pakistan's military forces as well as the Taliban. "Our research focuses on the human rights situation for people in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan," says Amnesty International's Polly Truscott, who wrote the report. "The Taliban continue to commit indiscriminate attacks. They are targeting civilians. They are killing those that they perceive as enemies. "But rather than focusing on trying to strengthen human rights safeguards for those living in the tribal areas, in fact, the Pakistan authorities are doing absolutely the opposite. As one villager told us, 'Everyone hoped that with the [advance into the tribal regions by Pakistan's] army, the situation would improve, but everyone is just as frightened of the army.' People find themselves subject to abuse by the Taliban and/or the Pakistan Army." Truscott says Pakistan's armed forces are arbitrarily detaining thousands of men and boys in the tribal regions. She says many allege torture and ill treatment, while many others are dying in custody or their bodies are found dumped near the place they were last seen. "There are human rights safeguards under the Pakistani Constitution. But the problem is that those safeguards are excluded from the tribal areas, so that the courts have no jurisdiction over the tribal areas," Truscott says. "It's impossible for people to bring a complaint against those that are committing violations against them. "In addition to that, there are these old and new security laws -- the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a colonial-era law, as well as, for example, collective punishments," she continues. "And the other one is the actions in aid of civil power regulations -- called the Actions Regulations. That is a new security law introduced last year. It also seeks to exclude the courts from jurisdiction of the tribal areas and appears to allow this indefinite detention without charge and any judicial supervision of those that are detained, which is resulting in this torture." Truscott says Amnesty International's own researchers in the tribal regions did not feel safe interviewing some Pakistani military officials there. "We did speak to some government officials. Those that we felt safe to speak to did not themselves feel safe to go on record, as in being identified," Truscott says. "We also spoke to representatives of the Taliban..because we are very concerned, obviously, about their abuses as well. But we haven't as yet had an official meeting [with the government]. "I did try to meet with a government official in Pakistan, but I wasn't able to arrange that. We're really hoping that their response will be to repeal those laws that are enabling armed forces to act with impunity and to prosecute those that are implicated in human rights violations in trials fairly, without the death penalty." When questioned by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal about the allegations, a spokesman for Pakistan's military forces said defense officials have not yet studied Amnesty International's report but would issue a press statement after they have done so.

Afghan girls killed in Nangarhar explosion

Source: Al Jazeera
At least 10 young girls have been killed after an explosion in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, officials say. The explosion occurred in the Charparhar district on Monday morning. The girls, ranged between nine and 13 years of age, were gathering firewood outside the Dawlatzai village when the explosion took place, said Mohammad Seddiq, a local government administrator. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion. Seddiq said that two other girls were seriously wounded in the explosion and were in critical condition at a local hospital. Police are scouring the area for clues as to what type of explosive went off, Seddiq said. Kabul explosion Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, a suicide bomber in a small truck detonated outside the entrance to a logistics company, killing at least two people and injuring 15 others, the interior ministry said. Both of those killed were Afghan civilians, the ministry said. The injured included 13 Afghans and two foreign nationals. The blast occurred in the Jalalabad Road area, where a number of foreign companies have offices. Daoud Amini, the deputy police chief for Kabul, said the compound was used by Contrack, a Virginia-based company whose projects include fuel storage, air field construction and tanker facilities. Large sections of the compound's exterior wall were blown apart and the roof of a building had collapsed. Twisted metal from shipping containers that had been ripped open by the explosion littered the ground. Baryalai, a security officer for the company, said the arm of the company that was attacked is building barracks and other facilities for the Afghan army "There was massive destruction inside ... I was sitting behind my computer when it happened. I was not hurt but I saw many of my colleagues were injured,'' Bashir Farhang, an employee, said of the blast. In a statement, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "A suicide car bomber attacked an important American company which is involved in security," Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, said in a statement. "The company was under our surveillance for a long time and today we succeeded."

Lahore bachao: Residents condemn haphazard development

The Express Tribune
Residents of Mughalpura voiced their frustration at the haphazard development work in their area here on Sunday, noting that the government had spent millions of rupees on the green belt along the Canal and then destroyed it for road expansion before the park was even inaugurated. They were speaking at the ‘Joint Citizens’ Meeting’ organised by the Lahore Bachao Tehreek, a group campaigning to preserve the city’s environment, to protest the expansion of Canal Bank Road at Mughalpura. Abid Raza, a resident of Muhammadpura, said that the workers had installed fountains, benches and swings and created a beautiful landscape at the green belt. “But before its opening, the government destroyed everything,” he said. He questioned why, if the government had planned to expand Canal Bank Road at that point, it had spent millions on beautifying the green belt. He said that similarly, the city government had set up lights for a food street that was to be built at Lal Pul Nabipura and then dropped the plan. He demanded that the government build a park and jinnazgah – a place where funeral prayers are held – in the area. Malik Shafiq, another local resident, said that four months ago, the city government had uprooted around 450 trees, some of them 50 years old, under cover of darkness in a half-kilometre area alongside the Canal. He said that even trees which did not encroach upon the area to be used for road expansion were cut down. He said that the green areas along the Canal had been the only place where local children could play. It had also served as the only jinnazgah for residents of Muhammadpura and Nabipura. He said that the Lal Pul area also had a sewerage problem which had been exacerbated by the road expansion project. Irum Aftab, an environmentalist, said that the government should be spending its budget on health and education rather than building roads. Even if it insisted on building roads, the government should have at least conducted a needs-assessment for the project. She said that principles of urban development had changed the world over with governments focussing more on green energy and education. She said that expanding roads was also not a solution to the city’s traffic issues. Imrana Tiwana of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek said that it was sad and frustrating to see construction work at three places at Mughalpura despite a court stay order against it. She said the tehreek would file a contempt petition against the government. She said that trees critical to the city’s environment were being ruthlessly chopped down by the city government in the name of development. She accused the Punjab government of spending much of its development budget, meant for all 36 districts of the province, on two roads in Lahore. A resolution was passed at the meeting demanding that the government declare the green belt along the Canal a public trust and an urban heritage park, in line with the orders of the Supreme Court in the Canal Bank Road expansion case. The resolution demanded that the government reverse the road construction and restore the green belts. It also demanded that the proposed Lahore Canal Heritage Act 2012 be reworked as it was against the spirit of the legislation proposed by the Supreme Court.

Those who leave PPP are doomed: Aitzaz

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) senior leader Senator Aitzaz Ahsan has ruled out the possibility of a delay in general elections in the presence of an independent judiciary. In an interview on Sunday, Aitzaz said everyone knew the fate of those who left the PPP. He said President Asif Ali Zardari was following the policy of reconciliation that strengthened democracy, adding that the current government would complete its constitutional tenure. Aitzaz expressed confidence that the PPP would win elections and form the next government in the Punjab province. He said those leaving the PPP would die politically, pointing out that people had left the party in the past and their political fate was known to all. He further said certain anti-democratic forces were not in favour of elections but despite that there should be no doubt about the intentions of the present government to safeguard the interests of democracy. To a question, he said he believed that no single party would gain absolute majority in the election and a coalition government would most probably be formed. Moreover, he said Zardari had the experience of running a coalition government successfully, a skill that no other party leader possessed. Furthermore, he said in the current situation, the next federal government would also be formed by the PPP in coalition with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), adding that the PPP would succeed in forming its government in Punjab as well.

876 security personnel guarding Sharif family
Sharif Family, one of the most politically influence families in the country, and ministers of Punjab province have deputed 876 security personnel to protect their homes, offices and family members.
These security personnel giving round the clock security duty are from police and Elite Force. The cost of their salaries, vehicles and other expenses is millions of rupees annually to national wealth. “But the other scene in the province is hundred of incidents of roberies, terrorism and kidnappings are being held everyday making the law and order situation bad to worse,” security officials told.
Over 100 of security personnel are deputed only for the protection of head of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Sharif and his family. “They are basically responsible for protection of Nawaz Sharif, Captain Safdar, son in law of Nawaz, Mariam Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz, Kulsoom Nawaz and kids of the family,” the sources revealed. “Any movement of these persons means consumption of official resources and such scenes are common in Raiwind, the area where house of Sharif family is situated,” they added. They say security guards for Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and his family inlcuding Hamza Shahbaz, Salman Shahbaz and Nusrat Shahbaz are in addition to guards of Nawaz family. “Deploying government personnel on personal protection is creating a VIP culture in the province,” the sources said. “To improve law and order situation in the province, it would be better for Sharif family to withdraw their guards or at least decrease the number to minimum.”

Nawaz Sharif has more security than Britain’s Queen Elizabeth
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan alleged that the security given to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chief Nawaz Sharif is more than the one given to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. He said 1260 security officials are deployed to secure Sharif’s family members but PTI leadership does not have sufficient security. During a media session in Wazirabad, Khan said that his party will never make alliance with any status-quo political party that has taken Pakistan to destructive end. He said that Pakistan is daily losing up to Rs7 billion in corruption and the incumbent rulers are transferring nation’s money into their foreign accounts. Khan said that with the help of the country’s youth he would beat the PML-N, adding that success in by-polls did not mean the party would perform the same in the upcoming general election. He said that the rule of law should prevail in the country and his party fully supports the judiciary. Commenting on the current political system, PTI chief said that the apparent failure of democracy did not mean that one started welcoming dictatorship. He said that small groups could not stand the “tsunami” of PTI.

Peshawar airport saga

Gratifying though it is that the accursed terrorists couldn't penetrate into the Peshawar airport to perpetrate their vileness, the saga nonetheless exposes chinks in the counter-terrorism armour of the state apparatus. What else could it be that despite the intelligence forewarning, the wicked gunmen did succeed in accessing the airport periphery with deadly arsenal of automatic weapons, rocket launchers, suicide jackets and an explosive-laden vehicle? Fortunately, they were beaten down with strong security action. Their target, unarguably, was not the civilian assets but the air force base. And that speaks of a sinister plan of terrorists' masterminds, handlers and financiers to diminish Pakistan's airpower. In their earlier attacks on the Mehran and Kamra airbases too, they had aimed at the military aircraft. And so would have been at the Peshawar airport, had they been able to intrude into its high-security area. All these attacks were decidedly no work of riff-raff scoundrels. Those bore the stamp of adept professionalism and extraordinary acumen in military planning, strategy and execution. And that tells tellingly that what the state security apparatus is up against is terrorism masterminded by elements inimical to Pakistan that are well-versed in military matters and warfare. More precisely, the apparatus is pitted against the brigands, whose patrons, believably aliens, have the experience of fueling wars against the foreign states, poaching native recruits to be their proxies and have all the means to train, arm and bankroll them lethally. That clearly stipulates that the state counter action has to be matching in every manner and stronger and more effective in every way. And that is where lies the weak spot of our state security apparatus in countering the terrorism of these foreign proxies. There indeed is a bewildering hiatus to the counter-terrorism response of our state. Although the country has been in the lap of a predominantly foreign-fueled prowling terrorism now for years on end, our top echelons are yet to learn that a successful counterterrorism campaign can only be conducted by combining up the state's military power and civil power. Here, the chariot is being run mainly on one wheel, leaving the other stuck up and immobile. It is the military alone whose shoulder has been pushed forward to carry almost the entire burden while the civil armed forces and the civilian administrations have been relegated to the backseat. This is intrinsically wrong, harmful and perilous. As a matter of fact, it is the civil armed forces and the civilian administration that play the leading role in fighting out urban terrorism, of which the country has become such a bleeding quarry. But the woe is that this time-tested strategy is nowhere in play all over the country. Not even in cases where the military has dealt the crippling blows to terrorists, making their commanders and ranks to take to their heels. The military's success needed to be consolidated and built upon by strengthening the civil armed forces to curb the remnants and prevent them from raising their heads and by plunging into massive development efforts to marginalise the extremists and marauding gunmen. More than two years have passed since the army cleared Swat and Malakand of the murder brigands of Swati thug Fazlullah, yet the civilian administration is still to show its state face to the natives to boost their morale and provide them civic services so as to shun the extremists or their sympathisers. Fazlullah along with many of his thugs had though decamped in the face of a strong and no-nonsense army operation. But since terrorism is like a creeper that doesn't die instantly but some of its offshoots linger on for a time, the provincial administration should have worked on a war-footing to build up a powerful civilian security apparatus in the region to deal with the rumpus of Fazlullah's brigands. It has not as yet any impressively. Nor is it showing any big development or administrative hand there to win the love and affection of the people lastingly. Only recently, the provincial government has begun talking of phased withdrawal of army from the region, but only unconvincingly. Far worse is, however, the situation in FATA region, which for whatever reason has become the nursery and wellspring of militancy and terrorism. The army clears an area of the militants, but has no mentionable civilian backup to consolidate and build upon its gains. The linchpin of the civilian administration is the political agent of the tribal agency. But recruitment to this crucial post is not based on competence, merit or administrative acumen. It is on every tongue in the region that the post is literally sold out. And the incumbent is more intent on recouping his investment and making bigger fortunes on it than lending a support to the military power by way of consolidating its successes. The civil armed forces at his command likewise are more swayed by the lust for filthy riches than for serving the cause of peace, tranquility, normality and stability in the region. This isn't on. This must change. By every consideration, the top echelons need to review the counter-terrorism campaign of the state urgently. The state is being challenged by professionally-guided, richly-funded and lethally-armed thugs. A very powerful, coordinated and orchestrated state action is called for to take on them. But time is of essence.

Crimes rising in Peshawar

Peshawarites have been feeling the brunt of terror attacks for the last few years. Weather it was the dreadful and horrific blast of Pippal Mandi or it was attack on public buildings like ISI building near R.A. Bazar or Sunday's attack by the militants on Bacha Khan International Airport much has been written and talked about these incidents and will carry on to be written and talked in future as well. Policemen of Peshawar has always stood like iron wall in front of the terrorists without caring for their own lives and a large number of cops have embraced martyrdom in such attacks. However, if we read newspapers of City whether Urdu or English, we will find that another issue that is being faced by Peshawarites and people living in the suburbs of provincial capital. This issue is the increasing number of crimes in the city. Even our crime reporter files three to four murder news every week. This means, if on average four people die in Peshawar and its suburbs every week then around 28 to 30 people die every month and around 330 people die every year. Similarly, the incidents of theft, robbery and other crimes are also on the rise. Some news reports a few months back in section of press had blamed presence of unregistered motorcycles for the increase in crime rates in Peshawar. However, people like me do not care what the cause of the rising crimes is. My concern is if every week four people die at the hands of unidentified, as the murderers hardly had been identified, where is the government who is responsible for safeguarding people's lives. No doubt both security forces and the government has done considerably good job in bring the life back to normalcy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa especially in Peshawar after a wave of terrorism attacks had hit the provincial capital back in 2009-10 and later. To stop a suicide bomber from exploding the jacket wrapped around his body is almost impossible for even the countries like USA whose security forces are equipped with the best weapons in the world. But stopping the street crimes and rising number of murder incidents is in the hands of the authorities. A few months back Chief Justice Peshawar High Court Justice Dost Muhammad had to jump in to ask the authorities about the messages being sent on mobile phones regarding group of criminals raiding different villages of Peshawar which had created panic among people of Peshawar. CJ Dost then directed the police officials to take steps to stop such rumours as it was done only to delay elections. There was no comment on the issue from any of the ministers of government officials. I am covering the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly from the last three years and hardly any of the 124 legislators has ever spoken of increasing number of crimes in Peshawar. It is the time we should start thinking of stopping the rising number of crimes in Peshawar otherwise the day will not be far when we can see the killings like that in Karachi and Balochistan.

Peshawar in shock after airport attack

The residents of Kandi Jamroze Khan, a small locality opposite the western boundary wall of Bacha Khan International Airport and PAF Base, are in a state of shock after the Saturday night brazen attack by militants that left several houses and vehicles damaged besides five persons dead and over 40 injured. On Sunday several of the families in the area were seen leaving their houses as they were no longer fit for living. Over a dozen houses were damaged badly in the attack. The boundary walls of several houses were demolished and cracks were visible in several others. Roofs of some of the structures caved in and their windowpanes were shattered. A small road separates the locality, situated in Abdara village, from Bacha Khan International Airport and PAF Base both of whom share a joint airfield. However, the two portions of the western wall, which the attackers breached, are towards the base and installations of PAF and Army Aviation Authority are situated in that area. The road connects Bara Road to several villages and Old Bara Road in an upscale University Town locality. The security forces erected a makeshift curtain to hide broken portion of the boundary wall of the PAF Base where some labourers were busy in its reconstruction. Residents of the area and passersby were peeping through holes in the curtain. The wreckage of the vehicle used by the attackers to make a breach in the wall by exploding it was also lying nearby the broken wall. Blood stains were also visible at different spots which the local people said were of the killed militants. Remains of a suicide vest were also lying nearby along with pieces of human flesh. A big cater at the place of occurrence was a testimony to the severity of the blast. Local people said that first they heard an explosion and when they came out of their residences they saw the vehicle was being pushed by militants towards the boundary wall and soon it exploded with a deafening noise. “Soon it was chaos with injured people lying at different spots groaning with pain amidst complete darkness and plume of dust,” said Abdul Ghafoor, a resident of the locality. He said that they saw remains and bodies of the attackers, probably four or five in number. He said that the outer wall of his residence collapsed and windows were also broken, but his family remained unhurt. Most of the inhabitants contradicted the accounts of the law enforcement agencies that the attackers were killed in exchange of fire. They said that soon after the vehicle exploded they saw the dismembered bodies whereas one of the attackers was still alive but wounded critically. They said that after about an hour the injured militant also expired. However, none of them had seen any of the militants fleeing. Provincial Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour, who visited the area and inspected the damage, told the people that on Saturday night he was passing by the site of the first blast near Old Bara Road where he spotted a vehicle on fire while two persons, apparently attackers, were fleeing away. He added that it was a well coordinated attack, carried out from different sides. He told journalists that it was time for the federal government to decide about shifting of the airport and base from the populated area to some safer location. About compensation for the damaged property and vehicles, Mr Bilour said that it was not the policy of provincial government to pay compensation for damaged property. The affected persons should submit applications that would be considered by them, he added. Faheem Khan, another resident of the locality, was busy in loading important household items in a tractor trolley. He said that as the entire structure of his house had cracked, therefore he shifted his family to residence of one of their relatives in some other area. Mr Khan said that Saturday night occurrence was like a nightmare and the loud explosions still echoed in his mind. He said that women and children in the area were crying and the injured were calling for help. He added that the government should compensate the people as most of the affected persons belonged to poor families. Several linemen of Wapda were seen busy in repairing the snapped wires on both sides of the road. One of them said that they had been trying their level best to repair the broken wires so that electricity could be restored at the earliest.

19 killed in Khyber Agency blast

At least nineteen people have been killed and fifty others injured in a blast in Khyber Agency on Monday, Geo News reported. The blast took place in the Jamrud Bazaar next to the soldier market. The explosives were planted in a vehicle parked next to the market area. 10-12 vehicles parked near the market along with nearby shops and offices were also destroyed as a result of the blast. Following the explosion, the area was cordoned off by security forces.