Friday, February 1, 2013
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.
Associated PressA 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.
By MARGHERITA STANCATILaila 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."
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.The Express Tribune
indiatimes.comIndia 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.