Friday, February 1, 2013

Ed Koch dies at 88: the former mayor who 'gave New York its swagger back'

Over three terms, charismatic leader saw city through bankruptcy but also presided over a spike in violent crime Ed Koch, a former New York mayor admired for his fiscal discipline and beloved for his big mouth, died Friday morning of congestive heart failure, a spokesman said. He was 88. "New York City has lost an irrepressible icon and our most charismatic cheerleader," the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said in a statement. "Ed Koch was a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend." Koch was admitted to a city hospital Monday with shortness of breath and was moved to intensive care Thursday. He had battled heart disease since leaving office in January 1990. "I'm not the type to get ulcers. I give them," he wrote in Mayor, his autobiography, in a passage quoted by the Associated Press. Koch won office in 1977 as the city struggled to recover from a bankruptcy bailout, a power blackout and a looting crisis. Through three terms, Koch cut city programs while improving popular services such as the subway. His sure leadership inside City Hall was sometimes invisible in the streets, however, as crime spiked with the crack cocaine epidemic and homelessness and the Aids crisis spread. Koch bustled through each crossroads by force of personality. "I met him right after elected mayor," Jonathan Alter, the journalist, wrote Friday. "He gave New York its swagger back." "RIP to one of NYC's great political characters," Tina Brown, the former New Yorker editor, wrote on Twitter Friday. "Koch made the Big Apple bigger." The mayor's mischievous side is apparent in a video obituary produced by the New York Times with his participation. In the opening scene an elderly Koch turns to the camera, smiling, and asks, "Do you miss me?" As part of a video Q&A series, Koch was asked what it was like to guest star alongside the Muppets in the 1984 movie Muppets Take Manhattan. "Better than playing with human beings," he answered. "Much more decent." At times Koch's penchant for unvarnished speech drew the wrong kind of publicity. During the 1988 presidential race Koch, mayor of a city with ethnic and racial fault lines, said Jews would have "to be crazy" to vote for Jesse Jackson, the black candidate. Norman Mailer, the novelist, wrote that Koch "may have succeeded in blasting the last rickety catwalk of communication between Jews and blacks in this city" with the comment. On Friday the Rev Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said Koch was "never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. … May he rest in peace." In his ninth decade the mayor kept a Twitter account. One of the last messages posted was a happy birthday wish for himself – and a note of reciprocation for the affection his hometown had shown. "Citizens, thank you for all your birthday wishes. I am 88 years old today and still lucky to live in the greatest city in the world."

Beyonce sings national anthem at Super Bowl press conference

Beyonce stepped onto the stage at a press conference held ahead of her performance at the Super Bowl and sang the "The Star Spangled Banner." The singer was criticized for lip-syncing the song at President Obama's second inauguration.

Behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton

Teen performing at Obama inauguration killed

Blast in front of U.S. embassy in Ankara, some wounded: media

An explosion in front of the U.S. embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara on Friday wounded several people, Turkish media reported. A Reuters witness reported a loud explosion in the area and the Dogan news agency said ambulances and fire engines went the to the site.

Suicide bomber attacks Pakistani mosque, 21 dead

Associated Press
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a Shiite mosque in northwestern Pakistan as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers, killing at least 21 people and wounding 36 in the latest apparent sectarian attack in the country, police said. Shiite Muslims in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and 2012 was the bloodiest year for the minority sect in the country's history. The attack on the mosque took place in the town of Hangu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which has experienced previous clashes between the Sunni and Shiite communities that live there. The bomber staged his attack at one of the mosque's exits leading to a bazaar, said Hangu police chief Mian Mohammad Saeed. At least 21 people were killed and 36 wounded. One policeman who was guarding the mosque was killed and another was injured, he said. Most of the dead and wounded were Shiites, but some of the casualties were also from the country's majority sect since there is a Sunni mosque nearby, said another police officer, Naeem Khan. Hangu has experienced conflict in the past between the Sunni and Shiite communities that live in the town. Both sides have attacked each other's shops and burned them. The worst sectarian violence in Pakistan in recent years has been in southwestern Baluchistan province, which has the largest concentration of Shiites in the country. A twin bombing last month at a billiards hall in the provincial capital, Quetta, killed 86 people, most of them Shiites. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan in 2012, including over 120 in Baluchistan.

Young Afghans Face Backlash Over Music

Laila Nabizadeh, a 13-year-old Afghan drummer, will be performing in New York's Carnegie Hall this month, as part of Afghanistan's only national orchestra, which has been touted as a symbol of the country's progress since the Taliban's downfall. But when she returns from her U.S. tour, the new, more conservative winds blowing in Kabul are threatening her budding music career. Ms. Nabizadeh and 10 other members of the youth orchestra are residents of a charity-run girls' shelter in Kabul. She was sent here to get an education by her parents, who live in the remote eastern province of Nuristan, much of which is under Taliban control.The tour was planned in late 2011, but in September, Afghanistan's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs ordered the shelter to halt its music program and replace it with religious classes. Music other than the national anthem and patriotic songs risks "tempting people toward immorality and is against Islam," said Wasil Noor Momand, the deputy minister for social affairs who signed the order. "Afghanistan is an Islamic country and we want our children to be raised in an Islamic way." The order added that once the girls turn 18, they must leave the shelter, and return to their families in the countryside. Ms. Nabizadeh doesn't know what she will do if she can't become a drummer. But she knows for sure that she doesn't want to go back to her home valley, where girls marry young and music is taboo. "I love playing the drums," she said in an interview at the Kabul shelter. "I want to stay here." As the U.S.-led coalition withdraws in coming years, the move against young musicians is one sign Afghanistan is backsliding on basic rights acquired following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime, which considered music un-Islamic and banned it. Although the central government's official position is that it supports music education among children, music is viewed as blasphemous by Taliban mullahs and some Afghan government officials, and girls face an even-stronger backlash. "We support the promotion of music, especially of Afghan music," said Aimal Faizi, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who he said wasn't aware of the ministry's order. But political uncertainty and the possibility of a Taliban comeback, is emboldening some officials to promote more conservative agendas. "Everyone is getting more conservative because they are worried that the Taliban will come back or join the government," said Afghan lawmaker Elay Ershad, a member of a parliamentary committee that pushed for a ban on teaching music—a decision she opposed. "It's killing me." The Afghan Child Education and Caring Organization runs Ms. Nabizadeh's shelter. Some 30 other girls studying music live there, many of them from the country's most violent regions. The charity running the shelter partners with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the country's recently established music academy, which encourages the girls to audition. Ms. Nabizadeh, who moved to Kabul at the age of 9, enrolled in the academy two years ago. For now, in the shelter's basement-turned-music room, drum rhythms still accompany the piano. Andeisha Farid, who runs the charity, said she has launched a complaint against the ministry's order and is still waiting for a reply. The parliamentary committee is also reviewing her request to let the girls continue their music classes. It isn't clear, however, how long she could resist the crackdown. "We are scared these voices will get louder," she said. "It's not only under the Taliban—it's still very difficult for these girls to play music." Years of Taliban rule and war took a toll on the country's once-flourishing music scene. "The Taliban destroyed all my instruments and hanged some of them from trees," said Ustad Amruden, a player of dilruba, a traditional Afghan stringed instrument. The frail-looking, soft-spoken 70-year-old, who is now a teacher at the music academy, recounted having to flee overnight to Quetta, Pakistan, fearing for his life. Though the Taliban have softened their prohibitions on photography, television and girls' education in recent years, "Music is strictly forbidden in Islam," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. The music academy where Mr. Amruden teaches and Ms. Nabizadeh studies has around 140 students, boys and girls from the age of 9. Sponsored chiefly by the World Bank, the academy operates under the auspices of Afghanistan's Ministry of Education. Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the academy's director, said he is confident that music education will survive. "The time when children were deprived of music is gone now," said Mr. Sarmast, a musicologist who started the academy three years ago with the aim of reviving the country's moribund music scene. He said the academy—unlike the girls' shelter— hasn't faced pressure to curb its music-education program. As part of the school's policy, half of the student body comes from underprivileged backgrounds. A majority of them, like Ms. Nabizadeh, were recruited from shelters scattered around the Afghan capital. Others are former street hawkers, who sold chewing gum and plastic bags in Kabul before taking up clarinets, violins and cellos. One recent morning, boys and girls carrying tablas, xylophones and guitars shuffled noisily between classrooms, as members of the school's orchestra crammed in a wood-paneled room for rehearsals ahead of their U.S. trip. They played "The Four Seasons of Afghanistan," a version of Antonio Vivaldi's violin concertos adapted to include Afghan instruments like the plucked string rabab. Their tour, partly funded by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, includes stops at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center on Feb. 7, and a performance in New York's Carnegie Hall on Feb. 12. The young musicians said they are looking forward to the trip. For most, it will be their first time outside Afghanistan, or on a plane. "I'm really happy to be going to America," said Sapna Rahmati, an aspiring pianist. But she is aware of music's uncertain position in her country. "The Taliban don't want the music school, and they don't want girls to go to school," said the 10-year-old, who lives in the same shelter as Ms. Nabizadeh. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it wouldn't welcome attempts to restrict music education for children. "Music and music education teaches tolerance, it brings everyone together in a spirit of peace," said embassy spokesman David Snepp. "Once that happens, it's very difficult to reverse." But Ms. Ershad, the lawmaker, fears what will end up happening as U.S.-led troops leave and the global spotlight shifts away from Afghanistan. "Women's rights and music are soft targets," said Ms. Ershad, a former government adviser on gender issues and a mother of two. "I'm really worried."

Gwadar Port move being seen through skewed lens

On Wednesday, Pakistan approved a deal that transfers operational control of Gwadar Port from Singapore's PSA International to Chinese Overseas Port Holdings Limited. Gwadar Port is in a critical strategic location: It is at the apex of the Arabian Sea and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, and only about 400 kilometers away from the Strait of Hormuz, a key global oil supply route. Gwadar Port will be of crucial economic interest to China because it gives western China access to the sea. It will also benefit a large part of the oil trade of China, which is the second largest oil importer in the world. If a pipeline connecting the port to western China is built, the shortest route for oil imports from the Middle East can be realized. The port will also give a great boost to developing China's vast western areas. Maintaining the security of commercial and energy routes is vital to any country. Western countries have attached great attention to sea lanes. The shadow of Western countries can be found in most other critical strategic straits and canals such as the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal and the Mandab Strait. Not surprisingly, China's intentions in taking over Gwadar Port have been interpreted through a military perspective. Many analysts from the West and India believe that China harbors the intention to build naval bases there. Chinese operational control of Gwadar has seemingly set off alarm bells in India as it feels it is being encircled by China. The Chinese presence in Gwadar has also been seen as a threat to the US fleet in the Middle East. In fact, China is not so powerful, nor is India so weak, so as to make it possible that the transfer of a mere civil project can "encircle" India. Due to China's rise, many Chinese companies' overseas activities have been painted with a heavy military tint. If observers interpret China's every move on the premise that China's rise will definitely challenge the current international order, all China's overseas moves would be seen as having a military purpose. China has repeatedly reaffirmed its intention and strategy of peaceful development. Perhaps only actions over time can dismiss these doubts. But at least it is good to see that most Pakistani people have welcomed their country's cooperation with China.

Afghan widows would 'rather die'

Afghan widows are struggling for survival. After their husbands' deaths, the women are faced with rape, poverty and social condemnation. One of them considers her life to have ended before it ever really began. Gulghotay's world fell apart she when heard the news of her husband's death. They had been married for only three months and now he was suddenly dead. But Gulghotay didn't want to lead the life of a widow. She decided to drink a small bottle of acid and end her life. Gulghotay lives in the eastern Afghan province of Maidan Wardak. She had been doing housework when a bicycle bomb went off in front of a police station in the neighbouring province of Ghazni, killing two people. Seven civilians were hospitalized, among them Gulghotay's husband. He died shortly thereafter from sustained injuries. His death was a shock for Gulghotay, says Mohammad Azim, brother of the young widow. According to Azim, his sister was very happy with her husband. But now he is deeply concerned about her: "Gulghotay was at home with a friend when she drank the acid," he said. Fortunately, her friend managed to get her quickly to a hospital.
Women pushed "over the edge"
But Gulghotay's fate is shared by many other Afghans. Over the past three decades, thousands of women have lost their husbands or other male relatives during the war. Since they depend on them, the women find it difficult to cope emotionally and financially with the loss and often fall into a state of depression. The chief physician of the hospital in the city of Ghazni, Mohammad Hemat, says that up to three women are hospitalized every week after attempting suicide. "For the most part, we are dealing with emotional stress and family issues that often push women over the edge," Hemat says. Fortunately for Gulghotay, she was admitted to hospital just in time. "She is now in a good condition in one of our hospital wards," the physician adds. Gulghotay was lucky and will be able to recover. But her physical health is not her main concern. At the young age of 22, she must now continue her life as a widow. It is unlikely that she will find a new husband. According to Afghan tradition, the widow will now get married to her brother-in-law.
"Women prefer to die than to live"
In a country where the future of a woman depends on her husband, widows are often powerless according to Wazhma Frogh, women's rights campaigner and Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security. With the death of her husband a woman doesn't only lose her identity, but also her place in society. "These women actually prefer to die than to live," says Frogh, adding they are not even allowed to continue life as a widow. The campaigner also mentions cases of women being sexually abused by their fathers and brothers-in-law. There are currently about 2.5 million widows living in Afghanistan, up to 70,000 of them live in the capital Kabul. These women account for almost 12 percent of the entire Afghan population. Most are illiterate and relatively young.
No government protection
Shajan, from the eastern city of Jalalabad is one of them. She says the only reason she forced herself to go on with life was because of her children. Now she is struggling to lift herself out of poverty. "I don't have a husband who can support and guide me." Her children are still young and she has a job cleaning at a school where she makes 1,200 Afghani, an equivalent to around 17 euros, a month. "There are almost no jobs. I wish the government would help poor people, particularly widows and those in need of protection," she adds. However, the Afghan government does provide for widows, Frogh says. When a police officer or a soldier dies in the line of duty, it is not his wife and children who receive monthly financial support payments, but his father. This clearly shows that not even the government recognizes the widows' standing in Afghan society, Frogh explains. A widow is seen as a bad omen by Afghan society. Gulghotay now faces all these challenges. She will survive and eventually recover, but at what cost? Her family hopes that the suicide attempt was her last one.

Jawad Ahmed pays tribute to victims of Baldia factory fire

The Express Tribune on 23 January published a long interview with IMT sympathiser and musician Jawad Ahmed who recently released a song in honour of the victims of the Karachi fire in September last year. You can read the article in the epaper edition or on the website of the Tribune.
Singer Jawad Ahmed is all set to make a comeback with his single Mein Bhi Insaan Hoon, a tribute to the victims of a fire that engulfed Ali Enterprises in Baldia Town and claimed over 200 lives on September 11, 2012. Ahmed first became popular when the release of his single Allah Meray Dil Ke Andar, a song that talks about the transcendental existence of God. Listeners appreciated the catchy tune and quick rhythm, along with its message of inner peace. After appealing to his audience’s spiritual side, Ahmed is now trying to connect with a wider audience through Mein Bhi Insaan Hoon. The new track is part of his initiative to create awareness about labour laws in Pakistan. It seems that Ahmed is leveraging his popularity to create social awareness and consciousness; if you ever see him out in public, you’ll notice that a crowd is usually following. “People had said that the Baldia fire tragedy was a serious issue,” says Ahmed. “But the masses did not understand why.” He further added, “There are really no labour rights in this country. For me, this is important, because I am part of the working class and my efforts will now highlight the struggle of peasants and workers.” At a press conference to announce his concert in December, he described Mein Bhi Insaan Hoon as a song that dedicated to the Baldia factory workers as “change can never come until they realise it’s importance.” At the concert organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), the stage was simple; but large images of rescue teams combing through the factory debris, as well as those of burn victims being treated at hospitals loomed in the background. Men and women who lost their family members in the fire gathered to remember their loved ones; as they held up photographs of young men who perished, women cried and clutched their shawls to their faces. The video of Mein Bhi Insaan Hoon was filmed during the concert, and is scheduled for release in February. “We invited the victims for a concert because we wanted to capture pure emotions which people could feel when hearing the lyrics of the song,” says Ahmed. “These lyrics convey that pain of these victims; they describe the misery and death… the helplessness of these workers.” “When I heard the stories of children, sisters, brothers and fathers dying, I got such a weird feeling. I sat down and penned this song within an hour,” he says. Reaching out “Music for the underprivileged in Pakistan was only available through PTV,” says Ahmed. “But since that has become a commercial institution, music for the less privileged is not available.” He also laments that Bollywood music is accessible while our content is for a niche market. “Indian music is for everyone, but Pakistani music is now elitist. It is only available for a certain group of people,” he says. Ahmed blames the structure of the music industry and the trend of releasing tracks online for the limited availability of music; he feels that while the urban population can listen to music online, the common man is estranged. This development has changed the scenario from what it used to be a decade ago when Ahmed burst onto the scene with Bol Tujhay Kya Chahiye. Apart from his awareness campaign, Ahmed says he intends to continue to produce commercial music. His next 10-track album will be released on March 23 in Pakistan and India.

Polio transmission: India may restrict travel from Pakistan

The Express Tribune
India may be the first country to impose travel restrictions on Pakistan because of its polio problem which threatens to become an international headache. India Today reported on January 28 that the Delhi government has written to its transport and railway authorities to allow screening of children coming from Pakistan or going there. It wants the health department to set up a permanent system at the Ambedkar Stadium and Old Delhi railway station where the Samjhauta Express arrives. Such screening is also carried out in Jammu and Kashmir as well as Munabao, in Rajasthan from where a train goes to Karachi. Delhi has been polio-free since 2009, said the newspaper. “We will be pushed back by at least two years if another case now comes up,” Delhi health minister Dr AK Walia said in the news report. Indian alarm can be seen in the light of reports earlier this month that samples of a strain of polio virus linked to Sukkur were found in Cairo. Egypt has been polio-free since 2004. The panicked Pakistani Embassy in Delhi has written to the Pakistan Polio Cell about this news that Delhi wants to take no chances. An official working with the PM’s polio cell said, “This is a crucial time for Pakistan to take the polio issue seriously. Lowering the number of cases in 2012 was a big achievement but now transmission of the virus to other countries is a serious cause of concern.” For its part, the Civil Aviation Authority has told all airport managers to fully cooperate with health officials to set up vaccination counters in all international departure lounges in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s beheading charge false: Antony
India on Thursday rejected Pakistan's claims that Indian troops had beheaded several of its soldiers in the past, with defence minister AK Antony dubbing the allegations "totally baseless". The Indian Army said it "did not indulge in unsoldierly acts" like the Pakistan army, "regular" troops of which had beheaded Lance-Naik Hemraj and mutilated the body of another soldier of 13 Rajputana Rifles after crossing over into the Mendhar sector in J&K on January 8. As per some reports, Pakistan army has complained to the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) that Indian troops over the last 15 years had executed, beheaded several of its soldiers in cross-border raids. "The very fact that Pakistan has not raised any such issue in bilateral interactions, including DGMO-level talks, since 1998 shows the allegations levelled against the Indian Army are misleading. Moreover, since the 1972 Simla Agreement, the relevance of UNMOGIP itself is questionable," a senior officer said. Antony, on his part, said though the tension along the line of control in J&K had "reduced" after the two armies stopped exchanging cross-border fire on January 16, India will not be hasty in normalizing relations with Pakistan. "We can't lower our guard. We have to be vigilant all the time ... we have to wait and watch," he said.

Pakistan: Judicial Overreach

In June 2012 Pakistan’s independent Supreme Court removed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani from office for refusing to bring criminal charges against the president, an act widely dubbed a “judicial coup.” The judiciary muzzled media criticism of itself in 2012 through threats of contempt of court proceedings. In October the high courts in Islamabad and Lahore issued orders to stop the broadcast of television programs critical of the judiciary. This bar on the media came in the aftermath of a multi-million dollar corruption scandal involving Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of the Supreme Court chief justice. The Supreme Court continued to take apparently political actions in January 2013 by admitting for hearing a malicious petition filed against Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, because of her 2010 campaign to reform the country’s blasphemy law. “Pakistan’s Supreme Court exercised its new-found independence by taking transparent political decisions,”Hasan said. “Its actions risk a backlash that could allow future governments to limit its independence in the name of good governance.”

Pakistan: Abuses, Impunity Erode Rights

Pakistan’s government has failed to act against abuses by the security and intelligence agencies, which continued to allow extremist groups to attack religious minorities, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013. The authorities did little to address attacks against journalists and human rights defenders, and committed serious abuses in counter-terrorism operations. In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab Spring. “Pakistan’s human rights crisis worsened markedly in 2012 with religious minorities bearing the brunt of killings and repression,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch. “While the military continued to perpetrate abuses with impunity in Balochistan and beyond, Sunni extremists killed hundreds of Shia Muslims and the Taliban attacked schools, students, and teachers.” Human Rights Watch documented a sharp escalation in persecution of religious minorities in 2012. At least eight journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2012, including four in May alone. No one was held accountable in any of these cases. Media coverage of alleged abuses by state security forces and militant groups was impeded by a climate of fear, Human Rights Watch said. Journalists rarely reported on human rights abuses by the military in counterterrorism operations, and the Taliban and other armed groups regularly threatened media outlets over their coverage. Human Rights Watch recorded continued enforced disappearances and killings of suspected Baloch nationalists and militants by the military and affiliated agencies. Baloch nationalists and other militant groups also stepped up attacks on non-Baloch civilians. In 2012, well over 400 members of the Shia Muslim population were killed in targeted attacks that took place across Pakistan. In Balochistan province over 125 were killed, most of them from the Hazara community. The government was unable or unwilling to break the links between Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies with extremist groups. Sunni militant groups, including those with known links to the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi, operated openly across Pakistan, as law enforcement officials turned a blind eye to attacks. The government took no significant action to protect those under threat or to hold extremists accountable. Suicide bombings, armed attacks, and killings by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their affiliates continued in 2012, targeting politicians, journalists, religious minorities, and government security personnel. Militant Islamist groups attacked more than 100 schools in 2012, including students, teachers, and human rights advocates, Human Rights Watch said. The Taliban’s nearly fatal attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old girl who had been an outspoken advocate for children’s right to education, garnered condemnation from across the world and the political spectrum in Pakistan. The deadly attacks on minority groups show no sign of letting up in 2013, Human Rights Watch said. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibilityfor a January 10, 2013 double-suicide bombing in Quetta, Balochistan that killed 92 Hazara and wounded 120 more. Federal rule was imposed in the province after a four day sit-in by protesters who refused to bury the dead until government action was taken. “Pakistan’s Shia community suffered bloody attacks in 2012, and then 2013 began with the single worst atrocity against the Hazara in Pakistan’s history,” Hasan said. “The government needs to show some backbone and act urgently to protect vulnerable communities such as the Hazara, or risk appearing indifferent or even complicit in the mass killing of its own citizens.” Human Rights Watch urged Pakistan’s federal government and relevant provincial governments to promptly apprehend and prosecute those responsible for attacks on the Shia and others at risk. The government should direct civilian agencies and the military responsible for security to actively protect those facing attack from extremist groups, and to address the growing perception, particularly in Balochistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, that state authorities look the other way when Shia are attacked. It should increase the number of security personnel in Shia majority areas and enclaves at high risk of attack, particularly the Hazara community in Quetta. The government should also actively investigate allegations of collusion between Sunni militant groups, military intelligence, and paramilitary forces, and hold accountable personnel found to be involved in criminal acts.
Blasphemy law convictions
Abuses under the country’s blasphemy law continued as dozens were charged in 2012. At least 16 people remained on death row and 20 were serving life sentences for blasphemy. Members of the Ahmadi religious community have been major targets for blasphemy prosecutions and subjected to specific anti-Ahmadi laws. Militant groups forced the demolition or closure of Ahmadi mosques and vandalized Ahmadi graves across Punjab province. “Pakistan’s religious minorities endured another year of persecution, insecurity, and fear,” Hasan said. “The government’s failure to reform or repeal the blasphemy law provides extremists with legal tools to impose bigotry and perpetrate abuse.”
Counterterror abuses
State security forces routinely violated basic rights in the course of counterterrorism operations. Thousands of alleged Taliban members, rounded up in a nationwide crackdown that began in 2009 in Swat and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), remained in military detention without charge or trial. “The Pakistani military’s abusive counterterrorism practices are as counterproductive as they are unlawful,” Hasan said. “By committing abuses against suspected militants in Balochistan and Taliban in FATA, the military is fueling the militancy it is fighting.”
Judicial Overreach
In June 2012 Pakistan’s independent Supreme Court removed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani from office for refusing to bring criminal charges against the president, an act widely dubbed a “judicial coup.” The judiciary muzzled media criticism of itself in 2012 through threats of contempt of court proceedings. In October the high courts in Islamabad and Lahore issued orders to stop the broadcast of television programs critical of the judiciary. This bar on the media came in the aftermath of a multi-million dollar corruption scandal involving Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of the Supreme Court chief justice. The Supreme Court continued to take apparently political actions in January 2013 by admitting for hearing a malicious petition filed against Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, because of her 2010 campaign to reform the country’s blasphemy law. “Pakistan’s Supreme Court exercised its new-found independence by taking transparent political decisions,”Hasan said. “Its actions risk a backlash that could allow future governments to limit its independence in the name of good governance.” Relations between Pakistan and the United States remained abysmal through much of 2012 over the 2011 “Salala attack.” The US carried out about 48 aerial drone strikes during 2012 on suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. These strikes resulted in claims of large numbers of civilian casualties, but lack of access to the conflict areas has prevented independent verification. “CIA drone strikes continued to generate controversy, outrage, and civilian casualties in Pakistan,” Hasan said. “So long as the US refuses public accountability for CIA drone strikes, the agency should not be conducting them at all.”