Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Obama to end Christmas vacation early

After just four days of vacation, President Obama is planning to leave Hawaii early to return to Washington in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. A White House official said Obama would fly home as soon as Wednesday – giving him only five days before an automatic series of deep spending cuts and sharp tax increases on nearly all Americans begins to take effect. After a month and a half of largely fruitless negotiations with congressional Republicans, Obama left for Hawaii late Friday to begin his customary winter vacation in his native state, expressing hope that cooler heads would prevail over the holiday. But he pledged to return this week, holding out hope that Republicans will either agree to a stopgap measure intended to reduce the impact of the fiscal cliff or, possibly, to an even broader deal to begin to tame the nation’s debt. Lawmakers are set to return to business on Thursday, but no specific talks are scheduled yet.Little progress has been accomplished over the holiday weekend, with virtually no talks between Republicans and the White House. Since arriving early Saturday morning, Obama has had a quiet few days in Hawaii, playing golf, going to the gym and hiking with his family. On Christmas, he often goes to church and visits troops on a nearby base, but he did not go to church Tuesday. As of 4 p.m., Hawaii time, he was on his way to visit troops at the nearby Marine base. Obama’s stopgap proposal is to freeze tax rates for people earning under $250,000 and extend unemployment benefits, which are set to expire at the end of the month. He’d also want to patch the alternative minimum tax, which will dramatically raise taxes on millions of people next year if left untouched, and potentially address other remaining issues, including automatic decreases in Medicare payments and the spending cuts, known as “sequestration.” But many lawmakers were pessimistic last week that a deal may be within reach after House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had to pull a vote on his “Plan B” measure to raise taxes on millionaires after too many Republicans refused to back it.

Gun laws around the world

As the U.S. continues to grapple with its gun laws in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Christiane Amanpour, host of CNNi’s “Amanpour,” joins “Starting Point” Wednesday to discuss international gun policies and how changes have been made around the world to decrease gun-related murders. “Remember in 1996 in Scotland, children the same ages as those in Sandy Hook Elementary School were massacred," Amanpour explains. "In that case, they banned the easy access to handguns. They also put in a buy back scheme. They also then backed that up with penalties and fines for any violations.” “The fact is that it worked,” she adds. The ABC Global Affairs anchor also notes that in Japan stricter laws than those in the U.S. have brought the gun-related murder rate down significantly. “In order to have your basic air rifle [in Japan], you have to have a skills test, you have to have a license, you have to have a drug test, a mental evaluation, and you have to have police background check, file with the police, all sorts of fines,” Amanpour explains. In 2008, there were 11 gun-related deaths in Japan. In the same year, there were 12,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. Amanpour argues that the link between tighter gun laws and fewer gun-related deaths is not “brain surgery.” She adds that the United States needs to have a serious discussion about how to get “sensible laws.”

Pashto music 2012

Are women safe in India?

Rape capitals of the world in 2010:
South Africa – it has one of the highest rates, with 277,000 reported cases. The same year a survey by the Medical Research Council found that one in four men admitted to raping someone
United States – more than 84,000 rape cases were reported. Criminals face life behind bars, and in some states, castration is an option
India – reported a little more than 22,000 cases
United Kingdom – 16,000 cases were reported. A suspect found guilty, faces a maximum conviction of life in prison
Mexico – nearly 15,000 cases were reported. In some parts of the country, penalties may consist of a few hours in jail, or minor fines
Germany – counts the highest number of reported rape cases in Europe, just under 8,000
Russia – almost 5,000 cases were reported, and the crime holds a punishment of 4 -10 years in jail

Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov: ‘Either secure Syria's chemical weapons, or arm its rebels’

Jinnah’s legacy

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 136th birthday
and the Christian community’s Christmas yesterday were commemorated/celebrated under a pall of gloom, uncertainty, fear and insecurity that has the country in its grip. Without getting into the controversy of the nuances surrounding what kind of Pakistan Mr Jinnah envisaged, the minimum consensus probably acceptable to most if not all schools of thought is that he wished for a democratic welfare state without discrimination against any section of the people, especially minorities, and in which religion would be the private affair of the individual citizen and have nothing to do with the business of the state. In the context of the religious divide that preceded and accompanied the partition of the subcontinent as it achieved independence, many partisan and motivated schools of thought have sought valediction of their own interpretations of what Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be in one or the other of Mr Jinnah’s statements over the years, none of which suggest that he went beyond basing himself on the most egalitarian principles enunciated in Islam. He certainly made clear that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state to be ruled by mullahs with a divine mission. Yet 65 years after it came into existence, Pakistan resembles Jinnah’s vision only in the breach. Jihadi terrorism seeks precisely to turn Pakistan into a theocracy based on the narrowest possible interpretation of religion, rooted in the Wahabbi/Salafist purist, literalist tradition that most other schools of thought in Islam disagree with, especially in the subcontinent, home to a vibrant, tolerant, inclusive Sufi culture. These fanatics and their fellow travellers want to finish off all other denominations within Islam, whether Barelvi (Sufi shrines have been attacked over the years), Shia (declared deserving of being murdered), or religious minorities (Christians celebrated Christmas while cowering in fear, Ahmedis and Hindus are suffering attacks, graveyard desecration, forced conversions and marriages, etc). How would Mr Jinnah have viewed our present state and predicament? And how did we come to this pass? Mr Jinnah’s enlightened, modern, moderate views on the kind of state and society he wanted Pakistan to be were overtaken soon after his death by the pressure from the mainstream religious lobby to overturn Mr Jinnah’s vision. The first blow may have been the Objectives Resolution in 1949, but this opened the gates to a steady, irreversible turning of the state first and foremost into an increasingly religiously oriented entity. General Ziaul Haq delivered the coup de grace to the remains of Mr Jinnah’s project and went further in facilitating the rise of religiosity throughout society. That and the Afghan involvement caused whatever dams or obstacles remained in the path of the extremist jihadi ideology to be burst or cast asunder one by one. As a result, today’s Pakistan is under siege from the fanatical terrorists. If any further proof of this assertion is needed, the assassination of ANP’s senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Bashir Bilour should clinch the argument beyond doubt. ANP’s Chief Minister Hoti and party head Asfandyar Wali Khan have in the midst of their grief at the fall of their close comrade, appealed to the political forces throughout the country to consult each other on the way forward. The ANP’s view is that it is time the political forces and the other institutions of state come to a consensus on the need for decisive action against the terrorists. This means not sitting passively in defensive mode waiting for the terrorists to wreak their havoc but to actively seek out and destroy the terrorists’ sanctuaries in the wild and woolly tribal areas while proactively rooting them out of the cities and the rest of the country through sustained, coordinated intelligence and police work, backed up with the firepower where needed of the paramilitaries and even the regular army. Without this political consensus behind the effort, the military may not feel inspired to go the whole hog, despite the losses it and the other security forces are suffering at the hands of the terrorists. Political ownership and a strategically coordinated effort is the only way whatever is left of Mr Jinnah’s legacy can be rescued from the pit of oblivion it is threatened with.

Pakistan: ''Ashamed, I am''

Letter Published in The Express Tribune
BY:Masood Khan
I feel quite ashamed and sad that Malala Yousufzai had to ask authorities in Pakistan to reverse a decision to rename a girls’ college in Swat after her. She had to do this after that particular college’s female students protested against the name change. According to reports, some of the students were apprehensive that the Taliban may target their institution following the name change. At a time when the rest of the world is united in its support for the cause for which Malala was targeted, we are unable to even make a ceremonial gesture. We are also unable to protect our brave health workers who risk their lives to protect our children, who are our future. What was the fault of 14-year-old Farzana who was shot dead at point-blank range the other day in Peshawar when she was coming out of a house after administering polio drops? Her assailants were successful in their aim as the anti-polio campaign has now been suspended across the country. It clearly shows the retreat of the state in the face of extremism and militancy. Yesterday it was Malala, today it’s Farzana, and tomorrow it will be someone else. This will go on and on unless we stand up and make ourselves heard by calling a spade a spade.

Karachi continues to bleed as 13 more lose lives

The city continues to bleed as at least 13 people have been killed in different areas in ongoing violence on Tuesday, SAMAA reports. According to police, unidentified armed attackers targeted a vehicle of religious leader Maulana Orangzeb Farooqui in Moti Mahal area in Gulshan-e-Iqbal this afternoon, killing six people including four policemen. He survived the attack. “They opened indiscriminate fires on the car onboard by Maulana Orangzeb and his security squad. As a result, four policemen of Maulana’s squad a driver and one of his associates were killed while Maulana sustained bullet injuries,” SSP Asim Qaimkhani said while speaking to SAMAA. The dead and injured were shifted to Liaqat National hospital where infuriated people created agitation, burning tyres on the Stadium Road and pelting vehicles with stones. A passenger bus was torched near Aisha Manzil. Police and Rangers arrived at the scene to control the situation. Earlier today, a religious party’s activist, Haider, was shot dead and his friend Abdul Hafeez was injured in unidentified gunmen’s firing in Orangi Town. A 25-year-old man Shahzad was shot dead while his brother Ayaz received bullet injuries near Azeempura Bus Stop in Shah Faisal Colony. Police said that the incident was a result of personal enmity. A dead body, packed in a gunny sack, was found near Timber Market, Old Haji Camp. Sources said that the victim was kidnapped, tortured and then gunned down. Another body of a young man was found from Gulshan-e-Iqbal Block 5. On the other hand, Rangers conducted a search operation in Faqeer Colony, Orangi Town and arrested as many as 100 suspects including a key man involved in gang war. Rangers also recovered weapons, drugs and other things from them. SAMAA

Three PML-N Bahawalpur leaders join PPP

Hours after Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mahmood took oath as governor Punjab, three leaders of PML-N on Tuesday announced to join Pakistan Peoples Party claiming that their former party leadership had not paid any heed to their problems. The announcement was made by former PML-N leaders, Syed Salman Ahmed Gardezi, Syed Irfan Ahmed Gardezi and Syed Sajid Hussain, during a press conference at Governor House, Lahore. PPP Punjab President Manzoor Watto was also present at the occasion. Talking to media, Watto said that more PML-N leaders were willing to join PPP and soon they would join the party. Watto further said that although the newly appointed governor Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood was affiliated with Pakistan Muslim PML-F but he was a sympathizer of PPP. He further said that he had no differences with Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbasi adding that they had grievances with federation not with the provincial leadership. He further said that the PPP would continue its activities at Governor House in Lahore.

Hollywood movies can (mis)educate us

By:Dean Obeidallah
Can a movie actually convince you to support torture? Can a movie really persuade you that "fracking" -- a process used to drill for natural gas -- is a danger to the environment? Can a movie truly cause you to view certain minority groups in a negative light? Some scoff at the notion that movies do anything more than entertain. They are wrong. Sure, it's unlikely that one movie alone will change your views on issues of magnitude. But a movie (or TV show) can begin your "education" or "miseducation" on a topic. And for those already agreeing with the film's thesis, it can further entrench your views. Anyone who doubts the potential influence that movies can have on public opinion need to look no further than two films that are causing an uproar even before they have opened nationwide. They present hot button issues that manage to fire up people from the left and right.The first, "Zero Dark Thirty," is about the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden, which features scenes of torture. The second, "Promised Land," stars Matt Damon and explores how the use of fracking to drill for natural gas can pose health and environmental dangers. Critics of "Zero Dark Thirty" fear that audiences will accept as true the film's story line that torture was effective in eliciting information to locate bin Laden. They are rightfully concerned that the film will sway some to become more receptive or even supportive of the idea of torturing prisoners.Opposition to the film escalated last week as three senior U.S. senators -- John McCain, Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein -- sent a letter to the film's distributor, Sony Pictures, characterizing the film's use of torture as "grossly inaccurate and misleading." The senators bluntly informed Sony Pictures that it has "an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film's fictional narrative."
Is this just more liberal whining?
Well, the hostility toward "Promised Land" shows us that it's not just liberals who complain about movie messages. Big business -- namely, the gas industry -- is aggressively objecting to the allegation in "Promised Land" that fracking poses environmental and health risks. How concerned is the gas industry? It has set up a rapid response team to counter publicity for the film by using two Washington-based groups that lobby for gas and oil companies: the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Energy in Depth. These groups have scrutinized appearances by the films stars on talk shows, questioned who the financiers of the film are, published parts of the script and mocked the film on social media. Energy in Depth went as far as to "fact check" a recent appearance by the films co-star and co-writer, John Krasinski, on "Late Night With David Letterman." Within hours of Krasinski's appearance, Energy in Depth posted a blog on its website pointing out what it perceived as factual errors made by Krasinski about fracking. Regardless of whether "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Promised Land" intended to promote any message, people who watch them will be "educated" in some way on torture and fracking -- even if very subtly. This is the same reason that minority groups continue to object being represented in a negative light in movies and TV. They understand that accurate representations matter because studies have shown that biases can form based on stereotypes or inaccurate representations. (Being of Italian and Arab descent, I'm acutely aware of this issue as my respective heritages have been represented by a parade of mobsters and terrorists.) What's Hollywood's role in all of this? The same as it has always been -- to make money. In fact, there's no doubt that the studios behind these movies are overjoyed at the controversy that has erupted and the resulting free press. Indeed, the response of Sony Pictures to the uproar over "Zero Dark Thirty" tells you about what they really hope we will all do: "We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it." So go ahead, enjoy these films and ones like them that are based on actual events or current hot issues. But while you are watching them, be aware you might be getting more than the price of ticket. You might also be getting a (mis)education.

Fiscal cliff: Barack Obama threatens to attack Republicans in inauguration speech

Barack Obama has threatened to use his inauguration speech in January to heap blame on the Republicans for forcing the United States over the so-called 'fiscal cliff' if they failed to reach a deal before the New Year, it was reported on Sunday.
The threat came as the Republican party's negotiating position was left badly weakened by the failure of its lead negotiator, the House speaker John Boehner, to win support from his party rank-and-file for a 'Plan B' that would have raised taxes on those earning $1m a year. The two parties remain bitterly divided over how to rein in America's trillion-dollar-a-year annual deficits, with Republicans demanding fundamental cuts to welfare programmes and Democrats arguing for tax-rate rises on the wealthy. Despite both sides giving some ground, negotiations between Mr Obama and Mr Boehner since the election have failed to close the gap, increasing the likelihood that America will go over 'the cliff', triggering some $680bn in automatic spending cuts and tax hikes. The threat by Mr Obama to shame the Republicans in his inaugural address on January 21 – reported by the Wall Street Journal – reflects the president's determination to appeal to broader public opinion which polls show favours his plan to force through tax rises on the wealthy. Although both sides have compromised – Mr Obama cutting his demand for additional tax revenues from $1.6tr to $1.2tr and Mr Boehner agreeing to break the Republican taboo on raising marginal tax rates – the closed-door negotiations have been testy."I put $800 billion [in additional tax revenues] on the table. What do I get for that?", asked Mr Boehner, according to sources quoted by the Wall Street Journal, "You get nothing," replied the president, "I get that for free." In another meeting, the president reportedly repeatedly reminded Mr Boehner of the election result and the mandate he believes it gives him to raise taxes on those earning over $400,000 a year: "You're asking me to accept Mitt Romney's tax plan," Mr Obama is reported to have asked, "Why would I do that?" Congress is now on holiday until December 27, when members will return to discuss how to avoid going 'over the cliff' on December 31, an event that would raise taxes on all American, potentially spooking financial markets and driving the country back into recession. Mr Obama went for his break to Hawaii, boarding Air Force One with his wife Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha and Bo the First Dog. He was spotted going to play golf with friends and dining at the upscale Morimoto Restaurant in Waikiki.Before leaving for his break, Mr Obama suggested Congress could pass a more limited, short-term deal – to at least avoid tax raises – but as discussions continued in Washington over the weekend, that prospect appeared to be receding. Delivering the Republican Party weekly address, Mr Boehner repeated his calls for Mr Obama to offer substantial, long term reform to America's spiralling welfare bills in order to clinch a deal. "What the president has offered so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem and begin to address our nation's crippling debt," he said. "The president's solution of raising tax rates would still leave red ink as far as the eye can see. And it would hurt jobs at a time when far too many of our citizens are struggling to find them."

France's Hollande keeps working in Christmas holidays

As time is ticking on 2012's last days, French President Francois Hollande would keep working at the Elysee Place to prepare for next year's bitter challenges of economic woes and social strains, local media reported. With no flashy schedule for Christmas holidays, "Mr. Normal" "will come everyday to the Elysee but he will make an exception on Tuesday to feast Christmas with his family," the local broadcaster Europe1 said, citing a close president's adviser. "I do not wish you happy holidays, because you're not supposed to take them," Hollande told his ministers during recent cabinet meeting. The Socialist candidate beat the former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy in May on promises to restore public finances, provide jobs and guarantee social welfare. Unfortunately, record high unemployment claims and limp economy clouded his short honeymoon. His approval ratings has plunged from 60 percent to 36 percent, the fastest decline of any France's top official.

Afghanistan Women Prison Eyed Amid Rising Violence

When 23-year-old Soheila was forced by her father to marry an older Afghan man, she ran away and married the man she loved. Her father tracked her down and dragged her back to Kabul where she was sentenced to six years in the women’s prison – all despite being pregnant. “Here I don’t have a life. My child does not have a future. Life in prison is difficult. But if I go to be with my husband, my father will kill me,” Soheila told filmmakers of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). CIR's film offers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of Afghan women behind bars against a backdrop of rising violence. The center explains that the majority of women in Afghan prisons have committed what courts describe as moral crimes: refusing arranged marriages, running away from home, marrying without family consent and attempting adultery. Prisons, much like safe-houses established by NGOs, have emerged as one of the few places women can go to be safe.
On Tuesday, the United Nations published a report revealing a rising number of discrimination and domestic abuse cases among Afghan women, and this despite the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law. Most of these incidents, the report says, remain under-reported because of "cultural restraints, social norms and religious beliefs," according to Reuters. The report comes only a day after unknown gunmen fatally shot Nadia Sediqqi, acting head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province. Reuters reported that Sediqqi's predecessor Hanifa Safi was killed by a car bomb in July. Safi's family blamed the Taliban for the attack. Most of women's rights abuses in Afghanistan are seen as being rooted in the rampant illiteracy in the male-dominated country. Even so, Afghan women’s rights lawyer Gol Ghutai tells CIR that the responsibility of Afghan society is not just to educate women on women's rights, but also to educate men. According to Ghutai, Afghan law is not that much different from Western countries, there is a marked discrepancy between the constitution and what is being practiced in Afghanistan.“If the husband disappears for more than three years, Afghan law says the wife can go to court and ask for divorce,” says Ghutai. “But according to Sharia law, a woman has to wait for her husband for 70 years. The judge will give his verdict with consideration to both Shari’a law and civil law.”

Violence in Media: A Complicated Relationship

Christmas provides Connecticut town a break from mourning

Christmas has helped some people in the grieving Connecticut town of Newtown cope a little better with the shooting tragedy that killed 20 schoolchildren, while others have yet to feel the holiday joy. Smiles returned for those taking a respite from the mourning now that funerals for the victims have concluded. For the crestfallen, the holiday spirit was absent in a town that just buried its children. "We're getting through this with our faith and our prayer. People are smiling a little more now," said John Barry, owner of an information technology staffing company. "The week was so horrible. Now it's time to celebrate Christmas." This largely Christian town was shaken on the morning of December 14, when a 20-year-old gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle shot dead 20 children aged 6 and 7 and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Little is known about the shooter, Adam Lanza, who also killed his mother before the rampage and later himself to create a death toll of 28 in a tragedy that has revitalized the debate over U.S. gun control laws. The sadness has moved some to act. Makeshift monuments to the dead have popped up all over town, funds have been raised, and many visitors have made a pilgrimage to Newtown, offering support. "It doesn't feel like Christmas. It's too sad to feel like Christmas," said Joanne Brunetti of Newtown, who was staffing a 24-hour candlelight vigil in the center of town early Christmas morning. "I got my shopping done a lot later than usual. I just felt like my heart wasn't in it." At another monument across town, Tim O'Leary of nearby Danbury, Connecticut, said reading the memorials to the victims only helped "a little." "It (Christmas) shouldn't even be happening," O'Leary said. "Life has changed as we know it." MISSING ANGEL The mood was more uplifting at Christmas Eve Mass on Monday night at Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which held its biggest service at the high school auditorium. Parishioners Dan and Michelle McAloon of Newtown decided to go Christmas caroling this year for the first time, gathering other families and children to roam a neighborhood where the families of three victims live. "We were just spreading some cheer, trying to make the situation a little better," Michelle McAloon said. "They all smiled, and they all cried a little," she said of the victims' families. "Everybody said we are doing it again next year," Dan McAloon said of the carolers. "It's going to become a tradition." Nine families from the parish lost someone in the shooting, and at least four of those families came to the big Christmas Eve Mass, Monsignor Robert Weiss said. "There is reason to celebrate," Weiss said after the service. "Hopefully when people start to see their extended families, or people from outside of Newtown, or even go out of town, they will be able to. You can't get away from it in this town," he said. Christmas Eve Mass featured a pageant that told the Christian story of Jesus' birth. One of the more poignant moments came when people applauded a group of two dozen little girls dressed as angels. They all knew shooting victim Olivia Engel, 6, was supposed to be among them. "I highly recommend that before you rip open those gifts, say a prayer for those children," Weiss told parishioners. "Then give your own children a hug."

Egypt: Artists and Islamists going head-to-head

Keizer's street art with Om Kalthum saying 'Art is not a Sin'
Islamists’ attack on arts and culture in Egypt since they came into power has manifested in several cases of conflict between Islamist sheikhs and politicians. The Islamist stances vary between accepting only “art with a purpose,” to not having an issue with art as long as some restrictions are put on nudity and controversial topics. The more extreme stance sees artistic expression as a form of Westernisation that promotes values not in line with Egyptian Islamic tradition. Not only did sheikhs attack the arts, but so was it attacked on the streets, where Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist supporters had direct confrontations with artists, at times even impeding them from their work. Many artists, on the other hand, denounce Islamists' limitations, considering it not only an attack on freedoms gained by the revolution but also on Egyptian cultural heritage and identity. Artists retort with public statements, protests, court cases and direct confrontations. At the start of 2012 on 23 January, Egypt's Islamist-dominated now dissolved parliament – with 70 per cent of its members scattered between members of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties – inaugurated their very first parliamentary session. Outside parliament on the same day thousands of artists arrived from a march from the Cairo Opera House calling on the first people's elected parliament since the revolution to give utmost respect to freedom of creative expression. The contrasting scene did not end that January. A constant tug of war between artists and Islamist preachers and politicians ensued and continued throughout the year.
Street protests
The march on the day parliament had its first session was organised by the Freedom of Creativity Front; a coalition of artists and thinkers who vowed to defend freedom of creative expression in Egypt. Their movement was born from the concern over several televised statements by Islamist sheikhs and Parliamentary candidates on their stance on the arts and culture. For example, the Salafist Call’s spokesman, Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat, called Nobel Winning writer Naguib Mahfouz an infidel and claimed his books promote homosexuality and atheism. El-Shahat also slammed pharaonic monuments saying they promote a culture that does not worship God, in addition to making statements on democracy being a sin. “Freedom, whether of expression, social or political purposes, cannot be divided,” Iman El-Serafi, theatre director and member of the Front’s organisational committee told Ahram Online after the march. “We are against any form of monitoring, censorship or laws that limit creativity, except for the conscience of the artist,” he added, concluding that the people of Egypt who have come so far in the revolution have the ability to choose what kind of art and culture they want to be subjected to and no religious or governmental entity has the right to hold public custody in this regard. The artists' march at the start of the year was one of many over 2012 where artists demonstrate for freedom of expression. This month, artists marched from Talaat Harb Square to the Tahrir Square sit-in showing their concern over Brotherhood rule in Egypt and the constitution that make a straight strike on freedom of expression, whether for artists or the press. Artists staged a similar protest in August in Talaat Harb Square while the constitution was still being drafted against intimidation of members of the press as well as the constitution assembly's high Islamist domination. These marches and stands, while they gather a lot of media attention, seldom have any effect on the decisions taken afterwards by the executive or legislative bodies of Egypt. The culture ministry, which has seen the minister of culture switched out several times and is now headed by Saber El Arab, hardly takes part in the ongoing crisis. Their silence is considered by many artists as complicity with - or even direct cooperation - the oppressive government.
Court cases
Last week Egyptian actress Elham Shahin won a case she filed in September against Sheikh Abdallah Badr who insulted her, along with several other actresses and filmmakers, saying she was "cursed and would never enter heaven" and accused her of acting in adulterous films. Badr was sentenced to one year in prison with bail set at LE 20,000 ($3,280). When the incident first broke out in September it caused an uproar among Egyptian artists ,who all met and vowed to support Shahin's stance on taking legal action against the sheikh. On 6 September, President Mohamed Morsi held an open meeting with artists in the Presidential Palace, which was attended by Media Minister Salah Abdel-Maksoud, along with artists including actors Adel Imam, Mohamed Sobhy, Madiha Yousry, Ashraf Abdel-Ghafour and Karim Abdel-Aziz; musicians Mohamed Mounir and Iman El-Bahr Darwish; and poet/writer Farouk Gweida. Several artists boycotted the meeting, such as renowned actress Samira Ahmed, who told Al-Ahram Arabic-language newspaper she would not attend such meetings until real action is taken against everyone who insulted artists. While some abstained from the meeting – many artists welcomed this dialogue with the Islamist president who promised artists that the state values their work and that culture is a major pillar of Egyptian society. However, many Islamist preachers were not happy with the president’s approach. Sheikh Wagdy Ghoneim, who publishes many controversial videos on his YouTube channels, released a video entitled Is this Art? denouncing Morsi's move to build bridges with artists, whom he calls “immoral.” He also charges that Egypt was a civil state and that it should follow sharia (Islamic law): the reason many voted Morsi into power according to Ghoneim. Shahin's case was not the only one that saw the inside of a courtroom. In April, comedian Adel Imam, who has been active in the film and theatre industry for over 40 years, was found guilty of “offending Islam” in a case filed against him by an ultra-conservative lawyer for his roles in The Terrorist, Terrorism and Kebab and Morgan Ahmed Morgan. Imam was sentenced to three months in jail and a fine of LE1,000 (roughly $170). Though later on Imam appealed the case and won the appeal in September, the case was highly publicised and criticised among artists as well as several other circles. Some saw this as a purely political move and not quite an attack on artists. Islamists also took a hit at underground musicians in 2012. In August, Islam El-Wishahy, a lawyer affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, filed a complaint to the interior ministry against the Sawy Culturewheel, for hosting a heavy metal concert – which he claimed were performing Satanic rituals on stage. Mohamed El-Sawy, the owner of the Culturewheel and a member of the now-dissolved parliament who was in charge of the Culture Committee, denounced these claims publicly and the case was eventually dismissed during investigations when many members of the culture community testified that heavy metal is a respectable genre of music worldwide.
Direct conflicts
The continuous struggle is not limited to courtrooms and televised attacks from both sides. The Egyptian street bears witness to many of conflicts between the two camps. Most recently, during the sit-in at media city staged by supporters of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the ultraconservative disqualified presidential candidate along with other Islamist-leaning members attacked film director Khaled Youssef's car as he attempted to enter. Youssef has several public statements and press interviews challenging the brotherhood rule and is a leading member of the Freedom of Creativity Front. In another incident in December a group of women wearing the niqab (full-face veil) attacked contemporary dancer Mirette Michael while she was protesting outside a Cairo court, cutting her long hair with scissors. The incident was not unprecedented, as this had been reported in a school in Luxor when a teacher cut the hair of a young schoolgirl for not wearing a headscarf. A Christian girl also reported her hair being cut on the Cairo Metro by a group of women wearing niqab, and there have been other similar reports spread word-of-mouth. Perhaps this incident is not categorised directly under an attack on the arts, however it is an attempt to impose their dress code on all others and, naturally, people in the arts rarely wear the niqab. The film sector, likewise, saw a hit this year. Filmmakers are struggling against the usual limitations and distance from taboos as sex and religion from censorship boards. Amr Salama, for example, has been trying to pass a film exploring Muslim-Christian relationships. Salama's struggles are not isolated: filmmakers have always faced issues with filming on the streets, needing permissions and papers to get away with it. In February, Ahmed Abdallah – the filmmaker behind Microphone and Heliopolis – was refused permission to film a scene inside a mosque, with the explanation that it is against sharia to film inside a mosque. The filmmaker tried to object saying there were many films shot in mosques in the past and gave concrete examples, only to still be rejected. "The next day we found a member of parliament from the [Brotherhood’s] Freedom and Justice Party at the ministry but we didn't get his name. He confirmed the objection to shooting in a mosque," Abdallah told Ahram Online at the time. Another incident this year was during the shooting of television series Al-Daht, directed by Kamla Abu Zekry and starring Nelly Karim in Ain Shams University's Faculty of Engineering. The crew's female actresses and extras were dressed in short skirts, since the series was based in the 70s, and that was how most Egyptian women dressed. The crew was stopped by members of the student union belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood who said they would only allow shooting to continue if the actresses dressed "more appropriately." Visual artist Mohamed Fahmy, more commonly known as “Ganzeer,” was attacked online from a conservative individual whose blog username is “Ibn Salama,” who called his most recent exhibition The Virus is Spreading of being blasphemous against Islam. Ibn Salama also accused Fahmy of "offending every Muslim" with his paintings that involve nude women and also question the institutionalisation of religion in Egypt. Fahmy replied to his blog post, point by point, on his own blog. What was interesting about this particular incident was not only the fact that it was online, but also that there was a confrontational conversation sparked around these artworks and what they are trying to challenge.
What's next?
Many artists continue to fear ongoing censorship as the Muslim Brotherhood grabs a stronger hold of the country. However, most artists are hopeful of the power of the need of expression and cultural dialogue that Egyptians have, especially after the revolution. Some intellectuals believe there has to be a fight to preserve and gain freedom of expression, while others believe it can be done through social dialogue. The Culture Resource (Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy) just launched a campaign called "A Culture for All Egyptians" with posters all over the streets and media campaigns affirming people's right to be part of the culture movement: culture with no boundaries on artistic expression. The campaign aims to make these changes in culture policies and law to give people a chance to be part of the artistic movement.

Good and bad terrorists in Syria

Terrorism is terrorism and it cannot be defined otherwise unless the interests of one party tilt the scale in disfavor of another and the dichotomization of the terrorists in Syria into good and bad by the West casts doubt on its claim on democracy. In a somber political tone, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out as “absolutely unacceptable” the West’s support for the terrorists in Syria in his exclusive interview with Russia Today. Lavrov said the West has divided the terrorists into “bad” and “acceptable,” throwing its support behind the latter. “It's absolutely unacceptable, and if we follow this logic it might lead us to a very dangerous situation not only in the Middle East but in other parts of the world, if our partners in the West would begin to qualify terrorists as bad terrorists and acceptable terrorists,” the Russian foreign minister said. The dichotomization of such a grave issue by the West is almost nothing new. The delisting of MKO, a long-considered terrorists group, by Washington is in line with this process of redefining well-established concepts and terms by the West. Paradoxically, the MKO has been supported by Washington even when it was on the terrorist list. They even received their training at the hands of the Bush administration. In a rare article, Seymour Hersh revealed that US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) trained members of the Iranian Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MKO) at a secretive site in Nevada from 2005 to at least 2007. According to Hersh, MKO members “were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office.” In a separate interview, a retired four-star general said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of MKO members in Nevada by an American involved in the program. He said that they got “the standard training in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry-that went on for six months. They were kept in little pods.” He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror. To the dismay and disappointment of many, US State Department decided in September to remove the MKO from the terror lists. US State Department said its decision to delist the group was made because the group has not committed any terrorist acts for a decade and brashly whitewashed the fact that the group has been to all intents and purposes instrumental in carrying out nuclear assassinations in the last few years in Iran. Although the group has never officially assumed responsibility for the assassinations (which is quite natural), there is solid evidence suggesting that it has been complicit in these terrorist acts. The terrorist group made unrelenting efforts for years to be removed from the terror list and enlisted a number of Republican and Democratic officials to lobby on its behalf. Instead of paying lobbying fees to them, “it offered honoraria ranging from $10,000-$50,000 per speech to excoriate the US government for its allegedly shabby treatment of the MEK. Among those who joined the group's gravy train are former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Rudy Giuliani, Alan Dershowitz, and former FBI director Louis Freeh. Many of them profess to have little interest in the money they have collected” (Richard Silverstein, The Guardian September 22, 2012). MKO has long been engaging in a series of sabotage and terrorist activities against the Islamic Republic in league with Israeli intelligence agencies. In January 2012, Benny Gantz, the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, told a parliamentary committee: "For Iran, 2012 is a critical year in combining the continuation of its nuclearisation, internal changes in the Iranian leadership, continuing and growing pressure from the international community and things which take place in an unnatural manner." Just 24 hours after Israeli military chief warned of unnatural events for Iran, Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated in broad daylight. It soon transpired to be a joint Mossad-MKO operation. The MKO has reportedly assassinated over 12,000 Iranian citizens, seven American citizens, and tens of thousands of Iraqi nationals. Anyhow, to dichotomize ‘terrorists’ into good and bad is an ugly apartheid. A comparatively similar story is being repeated in Syria. Washington has branded the Qatar-funded Al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization. But why? They are fighting against the government of Bashar al-Assad together with other militants in Syria who are chiefly composed of foreign mercenaries. The former are considered terrorists simply because they to a large extent fly in the face of Washington’s policies in Syria. So, it is Washington or the US-led West which decides who is a terrorist and who is not. A most misinterpreted word, terrorism is defined and refined by the West according to the context where it proves deleterious or beneficial to those who define the term.

Controversial Saudi preacher needs psychiatric help

The Middle East Broadcasting Center’s children entertainment channel MBC3 hit back on Tuesday at a prominent Saudi preacher who urged parents to prevent their kids from watching the channel because its content promotes “atheism and corruption” according to him. Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi, known for his controversial statements, wrote in a twitter post, "It is prohibited to enable your child to watch MBC3 children; its scenes are full of ideas of atheism and corruption; remove it now; your child is in your care.” MBC3 issued a statement describing Arifi's twitter post as "tendentious and far from reality altogether." The MBC3 statement pointed to a previous seen as preposterous religious edict by Arifi in which he said a daughter should not sit alone with her father for fear that she might tempt him into lusting after her. "Words cannot describe such mentality and such rationale, especially that it is coming from individuals who should be at the psychiatric hospital to treat abnormal thinking instead of issuing fatwas,” the MBC statement added. Sheikh Arifi had called on his followers on Twitter to boycott advertisers on MBC channels. Ironically as some commentators may see, the sheikh presents a religious show on another Arab television network which has a similar grid of programming and Western content. Al-Arifi’s twitter statements have regularly been a source of contention among religious and political circles. In October, he posted a statement on Twitter describing the Emir of Kuwait as unfit to rule and urged demonstrations against him. In his opinion, Emir Sheikh Sabah does not satisfy the religious conditions of an Islamic ruler. He later backtracked on his statement following mounting anger against him in Kuwait. In a Twitter post he urged Kuwaitis to “let bygones be bygones.” Religious figures in the Middle East and in particularly in Saudi Arabia use use social media forums to propagate their religious doctrines and ideas. Some of those preachers were reportedly “buying” twitter followers in order to boost their public image. The report also said that 25 percent of prominent religious figure Muhammad al-Arifi’s 2.2 million Twitter followers are “unreal” and almost 50 percent others are “inactive.” MBC3 delivers a programming mix of children's education and entertainment that connects with and stimulates the imagination of Arab kids aged between three and 13. The channel is part of MBC group, which is the same group that Al Arabiya News Channel belongs to.

Egypt: Women cut their hair in protest of new constitution

Almost a dozen girls gathered near Tahrir Square Tuesday afternoon to cut locks of their hair in protest against the new constitution.
The constitution was voted on in a referendum which took place on 15 and 22 December. The protest was held shortly before the official results of the referendum were to be announced. Preliminary results suggested 64 per cent of voters approved the draft constitution. “Freedom costs a fortune,” Fatma Sherif, one of the organisers of the protest, said, “it’s not our hair which crowns us women; our freedom does.” Sherif stated that women have been subjected to oppression since the early days of the revolution. She recalled incidents such as subjecting women to virginity tests, dragging them in the streets and stripping them off their clothes to prevent them from protesting. “In the end, they produce a constitution which doesn’t protect our rights,” said Sherif. Women, some of them wearing a headscarf, gathered in front of the graffiti of Gaber (Jika) Salah, a boy who was killed in clashes near Mohamed Mahmoud street in November. They covered their mouths with strips to symbolise being forcefully silenced. They then removed the slips only after locks of their hair were cut. “We only retrieved our freedom when our hair was cut,” said Sherif. The hair-cutting exercise persisted for over two hours. Om Abdel Rahman, a woman wearing a full veil, cut a lock of her hair behind her veil and proudly posed for a photo with the lock. “The constitution doesn’t give women the right to run for president,” Om Abdel Rahman said. She added that God declared men and women equal in the Quran, thus it shouldn’t be up to the constitution to repress women. Hoda Youssef, an elderly, underprivileged woman, stated that she took part in the protest since the new constitution doesn’t preserve her rights. She said she voted “No” in the referendum. “I earn EGP 300 every month,” Youssef said, adding that the sum is insufficient. “I’m 65 years old; everybody tells me I’m too old to work. My husband died years ago, and still to this day, I can’t receive his pension.” People gathered to witness the hair-cutting event; some of them sympathising, others disapproving. “I was passing by when I noticed,” So’ad Ahmed, a middle-aged woman said, adding that she approved of the protest. “But I don’t think cutting our hair is necessary.” Om Abdel Rahman was repeatedly interrupted by a crowd of men who gathered in protest of the event. “If they don’t agree with the constitution, they can protest, sit-in, go on television,” Atef Abdallah, one of those disapproving the event, said. “But to cut their hair?! This could lead them to take off their clothes next time, as a form of protest.” Women’s movements have repeatedly campaigned against the referendum. Article 33 states that all citizens are equal before the law and equal in terms of rights and duties and there is no discrimination between them. The part that says that there will be no discrimination based on sex, ethnicity, language, or religion was removed.

Egypt approves disputed draft constitution

Benazir Bhutto would be alive in the history for ever

Leader of the House in the Senate Jahngir Badar has said that Shaheed Benazir Bhutto would be alive in the history for ever due to her great sacrifice for the restoration of democracy. In an interview‚ he said that she was a matchless leader like her father Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto‚ who was hanged by a dictator. Badar paid tribute to her legendary leader and vowed to complete her mission under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari.

India: Valley seeks measures to prevent ‘rape’ by forces

Hundreds of people have been taking to streets in the Valley to express solidarity with protesters in New Delhi seeking justice for the 23-year-old student gang-raped last week. One of the protesters at a rally in Srinagar's central square of Lal Chowk on Monday said they want stringent measures to prevent crimes against women and justice for hundreds of women allegedly raped by security forces during two decades of insurgency. "Who else than the people of Shopian (in south Kashmir) could feel this pain the people of Delhi are feeling? Our demand is that strict punishment should be awarded to these rapists, they should be immediately hanged. We fully support the protesters in Delhi,'' said Mohammad Shafi Khan, a local resident while referring to two Shopian women, who were alleged to have been raped and murdered in 2009. But a CBI inquiry ruled out rape and said the two had drowned in a shallow stream. But rights groups rejected the report, saying the CBI had done so to protect cops accused in the case. Another protester, who took part in a procession in Shopian to express solidarity with the Delhi gang-rape victim, echoed Khan. "We are feeling the pain of the rape victim in Delhi as same tragedy took place with us in 2009, when two women, Aasiya and Nelofar, were raped and then murdered.'' Khan said New Delhi should also punish those people who have committed alleged mass rapes like the one in Kunan-Poshpora in 1991. On October 19 last year, a State Human Rights Commission division bench had asked the government to constitute a Special Investigation Team to investigate the alleged mass rape of at least 30 women in Kunan and Poshpora villages of north Kashmir's Kupwara district. Soldiers from the Army's 4 Rajputana Rifles allegedly gang-raped the women in February 1991. "SIT should be headed by an officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police," the bench had recommended. The protesters in Srinagar demanded immediate action on the commission's recommendations. Protests in solidarity with the Delhi rape victim were also reported from Jammu.

Pakistan defeat India in ODI, first time the heated rivals have met since 2008 Mumbai attacks

Half-centuries from Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik steered Pakistan to a tense five-wicket win in the first Twenty20 International against India in Bangalore. The tourists looked in serious trouble at 3-12 in pursuit of a target of 134, debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar (3-9) doing all the early damage in the first bilateral series between the two neighbouring countries in five years.
However, skipper Hafeez and all-rounder Malik got Pakistan's chase back on target, the pair putting on a fourth-wicket stand of 106 that looked to have them cruising to victory. In the end they had to work harder than they might have expected, though, with Hafeez's departure for 61 - having hit two sixes and six fours - leading to a late wobble. Kamran Akmal came and went cheaply but Malik (57 not out) held his nerve in the final over. He duly dispatched the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja down the ground for a six, seeing Pakistan over the line with two balls to spare. India had looked well set to post a more challenging target after being put into bat when they reached 77 without loss in the 11th over, Ajinkya Rahane leading the way with a breezy 42. However, his departure to the leg spin of Shahid Afridi sparked a collapse. Opening partner Gautam Gambhir fell shortly after for 43, and only two other Indian batsmen managed to reach double figures. Having at one stage been well-placed on 90-1, the hosts lost eight wickets for 34 in the face of some tight bowling. Saeed Ajmal took 2-25 from his four overs, the spinner claiming the key scalps of Mahendra Singh Dhoni (one) and Suresh Raina, who was bowled for 10. Umar Gul then finished the innings in style for Pakistan, dismissing Jadeja and Ishant Sharma in successive deliveries to finish with figures of 3-21, an impressive effort considering his first over had gone for 13 runs. The T20I series concludes in Ahmedabad on December 28. The two nations then play three one-dayers, starting in Chennai on December 30.

A brief history of coups d'etat

By:Syed Badrul Ahsan
There are certain classes of people who think that military rule or martial law is imposed in a country when politicians make a mess of things. That is simply not true. Those who put such arguments forward are pretty much at a distance from a study of history not just in Bangladesh but elsewhere around the world. In an age where politician-bashing has become the trend, where every problem is associated with the way politicians conduct themselves, it is important that the truth about the damage done through a military commandeering of the state be revealed. There is the instance of Thailand, where throughout the 1960s and 1970s, it was quite the fashionable thing for its generals to take turns in seizing the state and thereby keeping politicians away from decision-making. And those officers had no credible reason to take over the state, save a need to satisfy their own huge egos. In the process, they left Thailand's political process damaged, to a point where figures like Thaksin Shinawatra and his sibling Yingluck Shinawatra even now live in fear of the military going adventuristic any time. For long years, following the bloody coup that placed the army in power in Turkey in 1960, Ankara was constantly embarrassed before the world. Its soldiers underwrote the country's constitution, so much so that prime ministers were compelled to operate but by leave of the military. It was not until Recep Tayyep Erdogan and Abdullah Gul won a popular mandate to govern that Turkey's soldiers lent themselves to taming. Today the country is a respected member of the global community. Nigeria's fledgling democracy was destroyed in 1966 when its army murdered Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and his ministers and seized power. The military did incalculable damage to the country, for decades together. The nadir of military rule was reached under the corrupt Sani Abacha, who will forever remain notorious for the execution he ordered of the writer and human rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa in the later 1990s. Under the rule of the soldiers, an oil-rich Nigeria became hostage to multinationals' depredations and eventually turned into one of the poorest nations on earth. General Suharto's rise in Indonesia in the mid-1960s came through the murder of a million Indonesians suspected of being communists as also through the killing of six generals on the night of September 30, 1965. President Sukarno was stripped of power and, like Nigeria, Indonesia passed into the dark shadow of western multinationals. And for thirty-two years, Suharto presided over a kleptocracy that squeezed the country of nearly every ounce of energy. The soldiers reduced the country, once a beacon of hope for the Third World, into just one more country doing the bidding of affluent westerners. As a consequence of the military's involvement in politics, democracy in Indonesia continues to stumble. And there is, of course, the case of Myanmar or Burma. The country was badly wounded when, on the eve of independence in the late 1940s, General Aung San was murdered by mutinous soldiers. But hope burned rather bright with the civilian U Nu administering the country in the post-independence period, until General Ne Win staged his coup d'etat in 1962. Ne Win's long stay in power, till 1988, reduced Burma from a prosperous nation that exported rice to one where people had to queue up to buy toothpaste. The army called it the Burmese way to socialism. In truth, it was farce in thick shades of black. And after 1988, the Burmese military presided over a brutal regime that left the country isolated from the rest of the world. Today, it is democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who goes around the world restoring Burma to the rest of the world. Every bout of military rule anywhere has only left a putrefaction of corruption behind. It has undermined politics and created a class-based society that in the end has favoured certain elitist groups in society. Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan conspired to impose martial law in Pakistan in 1958, only months away from the general elections scheduled for February 1959. Over the next decade, Ayub Khan corrupted the civil and military bureaucracy, promoted a system that had second and third rate politicians jumping on to his bandwagon and did everything to stifle dissent among the political classes that mattered. His successor Yahya Khan, unable to cope with the results of the country's first-ever general elections in 1970, presided over a genocide in its eastern province and, ultimately, a break-up of Pakistan. And the consequences of Ziaul Huq's Islamisation are yet being felt in Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf overthrew the elected government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999 only because he had been dismissed from his job as army chief. In Bangladesh, military meddling in politics began with the ouster of the elected government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. The army take-over occurred through the assassination of the Father of the Nation and, a few months later, of the four Mujibnagar government leaders. It opened up deep divisions within the military, took Bangladesh back to the narrow alley of communalism, a move formalised by the coup of March 1982, when General Ershad decreed Islam as the religion of the state. One by one, all the values which had gone into a prosecution of the War of Liberation, all the principles upon which our liberty was based, were thrown out the window by military rule. The coup by a band of colonels in Greece in 1967, for reasons hard to find, took a democratic society away from its moorings and kept it there for several years. It would not be until the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974 that the colonels would be forced out and power returned to politicians. The exiled Konstantine Karamanlis would be called back to clean up the mess left behind by the army. Military rule or martial law has left societies in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Algeria, Ghana, Sudan, Congo, Fiji, Liberia, Guinea, Uganda and other countries badly wounded. In all these countries, it is today a major responsibility of politicians, long derided by soldiers, to restore civility and good governance through means patently democratic. And that is the unvarnished truth, despite the spurious arguments some people might put forth to the contrary.

Afghanistan: Policewoman who killed US adviser is Iranian

Interior ministry claims Segeant Nargas, accused of killing Joseph Griffin, came from Iran 10 years ago
An Afghan official says the policewoman who killed a US consultant in Kabul is an Iranian who came to Afghanistan 10 years ago with her husband and obtained a fake ID through him. Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said on Tuesday she had displayed "unstable behaviour" but that the investigation revealed no militants links so far. On Monday, the policewoman identified only as Sergeant Nargas shot 49-year-old Joseph Griffin, of Mansfield, Georgia, in what was the first such shooting by a woman in a spate of insider attacks by Afghans against their foreign allies. The US-based security firm DynCorp International says on its website that Griffin was a U.S. military veteran who had earlier worked with law enforcement agencies. In Kabul, he was advising the Afghan police force and was killed on Monday morning. There have been very few female combatants among insurgent ranks in conservative and male-dominated Afghanistan, although the Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack. A spokesman said the group was investigating. More than 60 soldiers and civilian advisers have been killed in 46 shootings this year, compared with 35 deaths in all of 2011. They account for nearly one in six of all Nato casualties in Afghanistan, and risk undermining the entire mission as it shifts towards a bigger focus on training. However, it was unprecedented to have a woman pulling the trigger and unusual to have an attack at such a high-level office, although two officers were shot dead in the interior ministry at the start of the year. The woman was confused and weeping, according to a police source from a gender awareness section of the interior ministry, which supervises the police. "She is crying and saying 'what have I done,'" Reuters news agency quoted the source saying.

APML issues charge sheet against Mian Nawaz Sharif

All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) has issued a 35-point charge-sheet against PML-N’s Chief Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s corruption and misappropriation of powers. APML has also published the copies of Mian Nawaz’s apology letter as well as his pledge for not participating in politics, Dunya News reported on Thursday. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, the leader of APML Sher Afgan Khan Niazi accused Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif of acquiring 614 billion rupee debts for different uses and therefore an immediate inquiry of this matter should be done. He also urged Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and his family to disclose the correct lists of their domestic and international assets. APML demanded an apology from Mian Nawaz Sharif for hiding the apology letter and the pledge for not participating in politics from his party members and the nation.

Pakistan: Assemblies to be dissolved on March

Federal Minister for Information said that the assemblies would be dissolved on March 16, 2013. While taking to the media in Haroonabad he maintained that the authority to take decision rests with the elected representatives. He emphasized that the general elections would be held on time and the government would not back any unconstitutional change. The decisions in democracy are taken through ballot, he added. The caretaker setup will be put in place after consultation with the opposition. There is no role of army or judiciary in people’s decisions, he maintained. Answering a query he admitted that people of the South Punjab has a sense of deprivation.

A dark Christmas for Pakistani Christians

Christians celebrate Christmas amid growing fear of persecution and rampant economic and social discrimination in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The year 2012 was one of the worst years for them in the country. In many parts of the world, Christmas means a time of celebration. But for Christians in Pakistan, who live under constant fear of persecution by the state and majority Sunni Muslims, there is not much to celebrate. Christians make up about two percent of the 180 million people living in Pakistan. Rights organizations say that like any other religious minority, they face legal and cultural discrimination in the Islamic Republic.Pakistan's non-government human rights commission, HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), reported that the year 2012 was one of the worst years for Pakistani Christians; a number of them were charged with blasphemy, their churches were burnt and houses looted in many parts of the country. Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim. Controversial blasphemy laws introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s make life for Christians more difficult. Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas; they say the Christians are thereby often victimized. Living under blasphemy laws On August 16, Rimsha Masih - a Christian girl aged between 10 and 14 - was accused of committing a blasphemous act by a religious cleric in her town. The cleric said she had burnt pages upon which were inscribed verses from the Koran. Masih was promptly taken into police custody. Pakistani officials claimed the girl suffered from Down's Syndrome, a genetic disorder causing major learning disabilities. Western governments expressed serious concern over her arrest. After numerous protests by rights organizations and Western governments, a Pakistani court ordered her release from custody. But Asia Bibi has not had such luck. In 2010, Bibi, an impoverished farmer, was sentenced to death after her neighbors accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She is still languishing in prison. The liberal Pakistanis who chose to support Bibi were also not spared by Islamists. A few months after Bibi's conviction, former governor of the Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri said he killed Taseer for speaking out against the blasphemy laws and in support of Bibi. In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's former minister for minority affairs, was assassinated by a religious fanatic for the same reason.Farzana Bari, director of Center for Women's Studies at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, believes discrimination will persist until the government reforms its legislation. "It is high time that Pakistani government reform these anti-blasphemy laws. These laws are even against the spirit of Islam and are a cause of notoriety for the country," she told DW. The government of President Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was heavily criticized by domestic and international rights organizations for failing to reform the laws after the assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti. But Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed does not only blame the government. He told DW in an interview that what used to be a small section of society had now become mainstream. "The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hatemongers and bigots who commit such crimes. Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society," he said, adding that those who condemned such "barbaric crimes" were now a minority in Pakistan. He also criticized the Pakistani judiciary for its alleged sympathetic behavior toward the right-wing. "Asia Bibi is still in jail, while Qadri (Taseer's assassin), is still alive," he said. Living in fear Before the rise of Islamic extremism and religious intolerance in Pakistan, Christians celebrated Christmas with much enthusiasm. They would put stars on their houses and decorate their towns with lights and flags. But many now worry about the risk of being conspicuous. "We are scared. We are frightened. We cannot sit together, we cannot speak loudly, we cannot celebrate openly. We receive threats," Ashraf Masih, a street sweeper, told AFP. "If we sit together and talk, all of a sudden the Muslim owner of the house will come and ask 'Why are you here, what are you talking about?'"Aslam Masih, a 37-year-old gardener, told AFP in an interview that previously they used to celebrate Christmas in the town church but now it it had been closed. Attacks on churches Experts say that the worshipping places of Pakistani minorities are also being increasingly targeted - not only by Islamic extremists, but also by common Pakistanis. Abdul Hai, a senior official of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Karachi, told DW that while there were also commercial reasons behind the attacks on the minorities' places of worship, most of the time, the temples and churches were attacked for religious reasons. "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," Hai said. One of the most violent attacks on Christians and their places of worship in Pakistan was carried out in 2009 in the central Gojra town of the Punjab when Muslims burnt more than 70 Christian houses and many churches, killing seven people, after a rumor that the Koran had been desecrated.

Missing Baloch Persons: 1000 Days of Peaceful Protest

The Baloch Hal
The Voice for Missing Baloch Persons (V.M.B.P.), on December 19, completed 1000 days of consecutive peaceful protest against enforced disappearances torture and brutal killing of Baloch citizens by Pakistani security forces. What was indeed an absolutely unique and prolonged protest of historic proportion, the landmark struggle of those consistently fighting for justice was barely covered by the Pakistani media.
While the past 1000 days can be recounted as the days of patience, courage and peaceful struggle mostly from the family members and relatives of those who have been subjected to disappearance, these days can also be described as the 1000 days of stark failure of the federal and the provincial governments, the powerful judiciary, the international community and global human rights organizations to end the agonizing cycle of disappearances and murder in Balochistan. In Karachi, the V.M.B.P. took out a grand peaceful rally on the completion of 1000 days of its protest in another attempt to gain the attention of the rest of the country about those Baloch people who have still not returned home despite repeated government promises and assurances. The protest in Karachi, similar to many of its pattern in the past, demonstrated the fact that the Baloch people put forward their demands through peaceful means. The government, on its part, has paid scant attention to such methods of protest. The government does not only owe the Baloch people an explanation about the whereabouts of those who have been whisked away and kept in illegal detention centers but it also owes a clarification about its involvement and support for the killing of nearly six hundred people who were killed and dumped after being kidnapped and tortured. The Supreme Court recently ordered the Balochistan government to compensate the families of those who have been killed in the Balochistan unrest, a demand the Chief Minister, Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, has apparently agreed to follow. However, we support the demand put forward by the Baloch nationalists that this decision should further be extended to those whose loved ones are missing or were killed after being disappeared. The issue of the missing persons has indeed emerged as the most pressing issue in Balochistan. It is enormously contributed to public alienation from state institutions and the justice system. The federal and provincial governments have kept the issue in a cold storage while the Supreme Court has emerged as the sole champion of the rights of the disappeared people. In year 2012, the issue drew more media attention and debate than ever before. The apex court heard a long case on the missing person’s plight and made a genuine effort to bring all big guns, ranging from the top officials of the Frontier Corps to the Balochistan government representatives, to probe the whereabouts of the missing persons. The Chief Justice, however, turned out to a paper tiger when he refused to meet with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances which showed that the top judge did not want to irk the prime suspects of these rights abuses (Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies) by educating them about the real culprits in Balochistan. What still remains under question is not the Supreme Court’s integrity and commitment to the recovery of the missing persons. But, with the passage of time, it is clear that the top court’s ability to punish those responsible for committing rights abuses in Balochistan can be questioned. There were two occasions when some people thought that the Supreme Court should feel more confident and ready to act but opportunities were wasted again and again. In the first place, former chief minister of Balochistan, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, appeared before the Supreme Court in September 2012 to testify before the court about the missing persons, hoping that his initiative would assist the court in understanding the conflict in Balochistan. Secondly, the Balochistan Police also endeavored to be as truthful as it could by providing evidence to the top court about the involvement of the Frontier Corps in the kidnapping of Baloch youths. The enormous wealth of information and evidence, unfortunately, did not culminate into a breakthrough. Instead of coming hard on the intelligence agencies and the security forces, the Supreme Court turned its guns against the Balochistan government and insisted that it had lost its constitutional legitimacy. The leaders of the V.M.B.P. have have remained under regular threats. They have been asked to give up their strike or face physical elimination. By continuing their struggle despite the challenges, these men and women have demonstrated extraordinary courage and perseverance in their peaceful quest for justice. They have set a remarkable precedence of a non-violent rights-based movement. The international community should pressurize Pakistan to do something so that these suffering families do not have to wait for another 1000 days to see their loved family members. In return of their steadfast democratic struggle, they now deserve days of reunion and perpetual happiness.

Pakistani women in the public and political sphere

The Express Tribune
Former premier Benazir Bhutto
, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar
and National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza
are part of a small, but significant, number of women who have marked their place in the country’s political arena. According to a study by the Planning Commission and endorsed by the United Nations, Pakistan has made remarkable progress in giving decision-making roles to women – however, the progress remains slow. In fact, the 2010 MDG Report for Pakistan also noted that “the 22.2% participation share of women in the National Assembly is much better than that for any other Asian democracy and even for several Western democracies, including the UK and the USA, as Pakistan has had a female prime minister, Parliament speaker, and most recently, a female foreign minister.” The study says that in Parliament elected for 2008-2013, there are 76 women legislators, of whom 16 were elected on general seats. The devolution plan of 2001 introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf’s regime has brought in a remarkable number of women at local government levels, with 33% reserved seats for women at all levels in the new system. Yet, discrimination against women is still witnessed in the civil services. Another study by the Planning Commission suggests that none of the federal ministries was setting aside 10% of its positions for women, as required under the Constitution. Based on data from 16 federal ministries and the Planning Commission itself, the report said there were only 112 women working in lower grade civil service positions against more than 2,500 men; at higher grades, the ratio was three women against 66 men. Most women were found in lower grade secretarial positions.
Meanwhile, women also remain under-registered as voters, even though they account for more than half the country’s population. The number of registered women voters in Pakistan in 2008 was 356,037,78 compared to 453,065,40 men. The 2008 elections saw a drastic reduction in the number of women voters – with a 45% in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa alone. The number of male voters also declined by 18%, whereas the number of women voters declined by 39%.
According to the report, this decline can be attributed to issues of security, recession, intimidation by militant forces and disappointment with the political system. Other factors, particular to women, include household responsibilities and socio-cultural constraints. It is more difficult for women to go out and vote as compared to men for several reasons, including security. There is still a shortage of women within the decision-making bodies of nearly all political parties. For example, there is only one woman on the 53-member central executive committee of the currently ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and none on the 26-member executive committee of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
The 2002 National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women calls for removing hurdles to political participation by women and mandating the inclusion of women through merit in all decision-making bodies at all levels. However, most parties do not take the views of women specifically into account while drawing up election manifestos, and women who are consulted are those with an already strong status in the parties, often on the basis of their family background. The data also shows low participation of women even after they are elected to local councils. According to one report, “Only one-third of elected women attend all or nearly all the meetings of the council.”

Lahore: Discrimination or indifference?

Despite an announcement by the Punjab government to provide subsidies to Christians, Yahunabad, one of the most densely populated Christian neighborhoods of the city, remains without a Christmas bazaar, Pakistan Today has learnt. The City District Government of Lahore (CDGL) announced setting up Christmas bazaars in four towns of the city to make clothes and other goods available on subsidized rates. District Coordination Officer Noor-ul-Amin Mengal, chairing a review meeting last Thursday, announced that directions had been issued to administrations of Wagah, Gulberg, Nishtar and Data Ganj Bakhsh towns to establish bazaars in their respective areas. However, members of the Christian community complained that the promised bazaars existed only on paper and in the speeches of the leaders. “There are 250,000 residents in Yahunabad alone, which is the largest Christian neighbourhood in the metropolitan with around 30,000 registered voters but the government has not set up even a single bazaar so far,” Napolean Qayyum, a resident of Yahunabad told Pakistan Today. “The minorities have to celebrate the event while no support has been shown by the government or even minority members. Billions of rupees are given in subsidy for Ramzan bazaars, while nothing has been earmarked for us by the government despite announcements and media campaigns,” he said. Minority leaders too have shown indifference to the Christian community on Christmas eve. The residents complained that Senator Kamran Michael has been exploiting the poor Christians to score points but without any actual work on ground. “The Christian population is being exploited by our representatives who fail to deliver on their promises,” Yaqoob Masih complained. “No one took any initiative on such a special occasion,” he added. Yaqoob said that in recent days Senator Michael had arranged two public gatherings for Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif. “Both gatherings were organised with the help of two affluent Christians – Bishop Azad Marshal and Pastor Anwar Fazal – who don’t even relate with the poor members of their community. This is a clear manifestation of how the selected representatives of the minorities and our so-called religious leaders exploit the entire community for their vested interests,” he said, adding that no other minority lawmaker had also taken the initiative of checking whether the government was actually delivering on its promises. “They are all thieves and liars and concerned only about their own well being. I only wish we get to elect our representatives rather than suffering at the hands of those imposed on us by these political parties,” said the agitated man. Punjab government spokesman Senator Pervaiz Rasheed told Pakistan Today that the matter falls within city district jurisdiction and hence he could not comment. DCO Noorul Ameen Mengal’s spokesperson refused to comment. Senator Kamran Micheal, too, was unavailable for comments.