Saturday, February 16, 2013

China needs to adhere to NK policy

The latest nuclear test in North Korea on February 12 has raised concerns about nuclear pollution among residents of North China, with the test site reportedly being less than 100 kilometers from the Jilin border. Fortunately, as yet, Chinese environmental authorities have not found any signs of pollution along the border. We have to demand that North Korea ensures there is no pollution of Chinese soil or air. This is a red line for North Korea. It is also a guarantee the Chinese government must provide for its own people. If this line is crossed, the Korean Peninsula crisis will turn into China's crisis. North Korea has been gambling more with each successive nuclear test. The country has been trying to use extreme methods to win a lasting peace, as other countries cannot offer alternative guarantees for strategic security. But this does not mean it will result in North Korea's strategic success. North Korea is too small to control the strategic risk of owning nuclear weapons. The new arms only put neighboring countries at greater risk and anxiety. North Korea should not turn itself into a hostage taker, who appears to be safe for now, but is actually the most vulnerable of all in the tricky situation. As for China, does the test mean a failure of its North Korea policy? Not necessarily. It is unrealistic for some to argue that China has lost the game, saying it should control North Korea and has the power to stop it from developing nuclear weapons. North Korea has been pursuing an independent diplomatic route for a long time. After the Korean War in the early 1950s, China took a step back, no longer involving itself too deeply in Korean affairs. China has placed Sino-US relations at a prominent spot since the reform and opening-up policy was launched over three decades ago, while also developing relations with South Korea. China and North Korea still have a special friendship, but it does not equate to an alliance. All these have resulted in China's limited leverage over North Korea. The Chinese public needs to change its mindset that China is a big brother to North Korea and always has the final say. China does need to give a stern warning or even punishment to North Korea if it hurts China's interests. But the warning should be one that informs a strategic friend about China's bottom line. China cannot join the camp of the US, South Korea and Japan, by making North Korea China's enemy. China will adhere to its pursuit of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula while maintaining its special relationship with North Korea.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa: Persona non grata at Karachi Literature Festival #KLF

Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), an annual international literary festival held in Karachi, starting from February 15 till 17, will be having no anti-army analysts moderating any sessions this year to avoid discomfort for pro-army analysts. Interestingly, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, an intellectual, author and op-ed writer, was assigned the status of ‘persona non grata’ by organisers of KLF for creating discomfort for the British, pro-Pakistan Army author Anatol Lieven in last year’s session. The session was about the book of Anatol Lieven ‘Pakistan a hard country’ which was not received well by some analysts in the country for its military-friendly approach, and could not do well in liberal circles. Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, who is considered an anti-military analyst and was co-moderator during, last year’s session, asked some pinching questions from Anatol Lieven, which caused discomfort for the British author. She was not called to moderate any KLF 2013 session and was not invited to participate in the festival despite a request from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) professor Dr Muhammad Waseem. “I talked to KLF organisers and they told me that I was awarded the status of persona non grata,” Ayesha Siddiqua told Pakistan Today. “LUMS Professor Dr Muhammad Waseem called me a few months back and told me that he wished that I should moderate a session at KLF 2013,” Dr Siddiqa said. “I accepted the offer from Dr Waseem and he sent my name as a co-moderator to KLF organisers but he could not get a response from the management of the literary festival, she said, adding that Dr Waseem called KLF organiser Raheela and Muneeza for sending her the invitation to moderate the session with him.” “Over this I contacted KLF organisers for their non-serious attitude on Dr Waseem’s request following which they told me that the administration of the festival has granted me the status of persona non grata,” Dr Siddiqa said. “Last year I had a one-on-one discussion with pro-military British author Anatol Lieven on his book ‘Pakistan: a hard country’ but on arrival, KLF organisers had told me that Mohsin Hamid and Ghazi Salahuddin would also participate in the session with me,” she said. “Some of my friends in the KLF organising team told me that Mohsin Hamid and Ghazi Salahuddin were added on the request of Anatol Lieven,” she said, adding that they also told her that the British author asked the organisers to remove her name but they added names of two more persons instead, to ease Lieven. “Failing this, Anatol Lieven was brought to me by one of the KLF organisers for negotiations regarding what I had to put forth into the discussion, but I refused,” Dr Siddiqa added. “In this year’s KLF, the Urdu version of my book Military Inc. would be exhibited with the title ‘Khaki Company’,” she added. LUMS Professor Muhammad Waseem when approached confirmed he had sent the name of Dr Ayesha Siddiqa for co-moderating a session at KLF 2013. “I called KLF organisers many times and later I was informed that the literary festival has a very low budget and they cannot afford travelling expenses of Lahore-based defence analysts,” he said. “Now I have two Karachi-based persons in the session,” he added. KLF DIRECTOR DENIES: KLF Director Ameena Saiyid told Pakistan Today that all decisions regarding speakers are taken by the KLF committee. “No one can force us to invite anyone. We try to get new authors every year for the benefit of the audience or we get authors who have published a new book. Ayesha is not entitled to be invited every year. She is not persona non grata and is welcome to attend KLF…it is free and open to all,” she said.

Pakistan bomb blast kills at least 79 people, injures 200

Anti-Islamist blogger killed in Bangladesh violence
A Bangladeshi blogger who had been critical of the Islamist groups has been killed, prompting the protesters here to continue their round the clock sit-in vigil demanding death penalties for 1971 war criminals. Rajib Haidar, 30, an architect and Shahbagh protest activist, was stabbed to death near his house at Pallabi in the capital last night. "We have launched a massive manhunt for killers of Rajib Haidar... the detective branch and the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) separately took fingerprints to track down the assailants," a police spokesman told. The protestors at Shahbagh accused fundamentalist Jamaat- e-Islami (JI) of killing Haidar with lethal weapons last evening while he was returning home. The killing prompted the protesters to go back to their 24-hour movement instead of seven-hour programme which they had declared hours before the death. Haidar's death came hours after violence at southeastern Cox's Bazar district that left three people dead. The violence broke out after JI activists turned violent following Friday prayers to protest their top leaders' trial for war crimes. JI and their student affiliate Islamic Chhatra Shibir were trying to wage counter protest attacking or torching vehicles and attacking policemen apparently under a hit ad run strategy to halt their stalwarts' ongoing trial. The violence saw deaths of at least 14 people including Haidar, who apparently came under wraths of the Islamists for his internet blog campaign demanding ban on the JI politics and boycott of the health, banking and other services as part of the youngsters "non-political and non-partisan" movement. "We announce from here, we will not go back home until the war criminals are hanged, his (Haidar's) assailants are exposed to justice and politics of Jamaat and Shibir is banned," said a leading organiser of the Shahbagh protest. Meanwhile, JI has called a nationwide general strike on Monday and enforced a localised one in Cox's Bazar today to protest deaths of three of the party's activists yesterday.

Bangladesh’s PM hints at backing ban of Islamic party

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicated Saturday she would back a ban on the country’s largest Islamic party, as tens of thousands of people joined the funeral of an anti-Islamist blogger. Hasina said after a meeting with the mourning relatives of Ahmed Rajib Haider that the Jamaat-e-Islami party, whose members are suspected in the blogger’s murder, had “no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh”. Demonstrations championed by the country’s online activists have seen thousands take to the streets for the last two weeks demanding the execution of leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party who are on trial for war crimes.Rival protests by Islamists demanding a halt to the trials of Jamaat leaders including its chief and deputy chief over their role in the 1971 independence war have turned violent across the country, leaving 13 people dead. Late on Friday Haider, an organiser of the anti-Islamist protests, was hacked to death with a machete near his Dhaka home. Police have yet to comment on a possible motive, but his brother said Haider was targeted by Jamaat’s student wing for his online activities. Fellow blogger Shakil Ahmed said a pro-Jamaat website had last week named Haider as a target. Hasina visited Haider’s home on Saturday and hinted in comments to reporters that she would back a ban for Jamaat. “Anyone can assume who were behind this,” she said, alluding to Jamaat. “Many claim they are a democratic political party, a democratic force. Now it is proved that they believe in terrorism not democracy, she said.“We will do to them what is necessary. They have absolutely no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh.” Thousands of people including war veterans joined the funeral late Saturday at Dhaka’s Shahbag intersection, where protests have been staged against Islamist groups since February 5. Local police chief Sirajul Islam told AFP at least 50,000 people attended the funeral. “We touched his coffin and vowed that we won’t leave the protests until the government finds his killers, and bans Jamaat and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir,” said blogger and protester Mahbubur Rahman. Clashes between police and Islamists have intensified since last week after a senior Jamaat leader was sentenced to life imprisonment for mass murder. Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have said the trials are based on bogus charges and are part of a wider political vendetta. The government rejects the accusations and says the trials are needed to heal wounds of the nine-month war in which it says three million people were killed, many by pro-Pakistani militia whose members allegedly included Jamaat officials. The killing on Friday was the second attack in Dhaka against a blogger critical of Islamist groups in less than a month, after the stabbing of a self-styled online “militant atheist” by three unidentified men.

Afghans skeptical of Obama troop withdrawal

AS President Barack Obama plans to withdraw some 34,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year – a little more than half the current number. The Karzai government has welcomed the move as long overdue. The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement saying it had long been hoping for such an announcement and that the US president's plans would certainly provide added impetus for peace and security in the country. Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, added that "by the end of 2013, the government would take over the security responsibilities for all of Afghanistan." Afghan security forces had the necessary capabilities and strength, he said. Currently, Afghanistan's own security forces consist of 157,000 soldiers and 190,000 police officers. The total number of personnel is supposed to increase by another 5,000 to 352,000 by 2014. Afghanistan is quick to emphasize that it is already responsible for security in 80 percent of the country.
US support still necessary
Due to a lack of equipment, Afghan troops are still dependent on international forces as far as air support is concerned. The United States has repeatedly denied Afghan requests for equipment for its air force. Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province, where the Taliban have been traditionally strong, thinks Washington has an obligation to help. "The US has to depart Afghanistan within the framework of a responsible transition process and provide all assistance possible for strengthening the peace process," he told DW. "They have to help us equip and train our troops." Afghan military experts, unlike the government, are skeptical about the chances for peace and security in the country. Former general, Atiqullah Barialai, sees domestic political reasons behind President Obama's withdrawal decision. "In Afghanistan, the war continues unabated and the number of attacks by the Taliban is still very high. Furthermore, there are no confidence-building measures for compromises and reconciliation," Barialai told DW.
Political and military vacuum
After international troops leave, will Afghanistan once again slip back into civil war and become a pawn of foreign interest, like it did after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989? That is exactly what many Afghans fear, such as Mohammad Omar Sati, a member of the Kandahar province peace council. "Unfortunately, we are surrounded by local enemies and hostile neighbors, who are just waiting to lure us into a trap with intrigue." The Taliban responded to Obama's announcement with the usual demand for an immediate troop withdrawal. Western news agencies quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as saying that the problems in the country could only be solved by Afghans themselves after a rapid withdrawal of international forces.
What happens after 2014?
Political observers think that the Taliban are not interested in a peaceful solution and are just waiting for foreign troops to leave to intensify their attacks. Military expert Baralai is one of the pessimists: "The Taliban are planning to expand their attacks and occupy additional territory. Afghan security forces will not be able to contain the insurgents," he said. In Afghanistan, people are now anxiously awaiting the outcome of the current security negotiations with the US, which will determine the extent of training and equipment for Afghan forces and the size of the US anti-terror units to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

Is Balochistan ready for elections?

EDITORIAL :DAILY TIMES The three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan has shown concern over the ability of both the federal and the provincial government in conductng the elections in Balochistan. The political situation in the province does not guarantee a peaceful campaign, leave alone polling, whoch generally is considered a D-day for the contesting parties. Balochistan is engulfed in a myriad issues, all so heinous in nature that unless the current repressive policies are reversed, peaceful elections will remain a distant dream. The Frontier Corps (FC), considered the source of all that is wrong in the province, has recently been given unfettered police powers. How should one interpret this decision, when even the Supreme Court (SC) has said there is enough evidence to prove that the FC has been pursuing a policy of kill and dump against dissidents. This can either be considered an act of ignorance by the government or sheer inability to understand the gravity of the situation. Either way, it is the people of the province who are paying the cost. As far as the provincial government is concerned, it has been a failure par excellence, a conglomerate of money minters, considering themselves beyond the power of the law and accountability. The manner in which Aslam Raisani ruled the province for nearly five years, and the way he has been tolerated and allowed to wreak havoc on the lives of the people is indeed no way to handle sectarianism, terrorism, nationalism, kidnapping for ransom and enforced disappearances, all rampant across the province. Even though the Assembly is dysfunctional in the wake of Governor’s rule, peace is still a rare commodity. The SC, like any serious institution or person in the country, is worried about the ability of the province to hold free and fair elections. Dera Bugti is simmering in crisis. Close to two hundred thousand people of the Bugti tribe are living in camps as IDPs. They are not enrolled as voters. The main worry of the SC is that if the Election Commission of Pakistan is not given a free hand to register all legitimate voters of Balochistan, the holding of the election would be marred. The election is perhaps the only hope for change for the Baloch people. This change will be further enhanced if the true representatives of the province, the leaders hiding in the mountains or abroad are talked to. Their involvement in mainstream politics is all the more imperative to bring about a truly representative government in Balochistan. Unfortunately, there has been no movement toward this end by the ruling political forces of the country. The nationalist guerrillas in the province would keep fighting unless their concerns are addressed, i.e. redressing past grievances and rights for the future. No matter how much we deny it, the truth is that these people have been denied resources and power to choose a path of of their liking. Then we call it a federal state. Balochistan is perhaps a prime example of going against the spirit of federalism. The SC has reiterated, as it has been doing for ages now, that the missing persons must be produced. Just like any other hearing, this too ended with the law enforcers promising to do the needful. The government has to wake up now. There is no need to reiterate the importance of these elections for Pakistan and its stability. Law and order is the prerequisite for peaceful and credible polling. Will the government put its act together wisely to address such an important issue? An answer to this will tell whether Balochistan is ready for elections or not.

Taliban in Kabul will mean Islamist takeover in Pakistan

If the Taliban and Al Qaeda were to take power in Afghanistan after American troops withdraw, it would lead to an Islamist takeover of Pakistan, a new book says. Given the growing demand in the US to end its involvement in Afghanistan, American economic and military aid to Kabul maynot last long after 2014, says the "Endgame in Afghanistan" (Sage). Author Hiranmay Karlekar warns that if and when that happens, the embattled Hamid Karzai regime in Kabul might not even last as long as the Najibullah government did after the Soviet Union pulled out. The consequent Taliban-Al Qaeda takeover "may then lead to an Islamist takeover of Pakistan's army and government", says the 353-page book, a comprehensive account of the Afghan conflict. At the same time, Karlekar argues that Pakistan's present leadership, both civilian and military, "fully realize that they are in no position to dispense with American civilian and military aid. "Equally, they do not want to destroy the Haqqani (militant) network and the Afghan Taliban which they consider to be their strategic assets..." The books says the Pakistani state would also not desist from activities that undermine the American position and the Karzai government so as to install a pliant regime in Kabul. "They are ... inheritors of a skill that their predecessors had turned into an art - taking Americans for a ride. "They will, therefore, huff and pull on the brink but take care not to leap over." But the situation in Pakistan would change if Islamists either take over or dominate the army, the author says. While detailing the "deep-rooted radical tendency in Pakistan's security forces", the book says the possibility of a jehadi takeover of the army cannot be ruled out. "The Pakistani army, however, is still a disciplined force," it says. "By all indications, its top brass would not want to have an irreparable breach with the US. "It is true that officers with liberal backgrounds and warm links with the West are getting increasingly fewer. "But even the conservative ones may not want a sharp deterioration of ties with the US because that may mean a drastic curtailment, if not complete stoppage, of military aid, which has been considerable."

Pak asks UK to limit Indian influence in Afghanistan
With the UK trying to broker an agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan on Taliban reconciliation, Islamabad, it is learnt, has asked London to limit Indian activities in war-torn Afghanistan. It is not clear what the UK response has been, but diplomatic sources said Afghan and the British role in a possible Taliban reconciliation deal between Islamabad and Kabul would be high on the agenda, when British PM David Cameron meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for talks on Tuesday. Cameron is on a working visit to India. Sources said Pakistan had made this request to Cameron during last week's trilateral meeting with Hamid Karzai at Chequers, the British PM's country home. Cameron had hosted both leaders for the trilateral that is searching for a viable way to bring the Taliban into the mainstream in Afghanistan, get Pakistan to release Taliban leaders, who are in Pakistani custody. Pakistani media reported that after the Chequers meeting that Pakistani President Raja Pervaiz Ashraf asked the UK to give Islamabad the military hardware that they would leave behind after 2014. Pakistan's news daily, The News, reported this week that in response, Cameron was quoted as saying, "Your friends are our friends and your enemies are our enemies." The UK has apparently promised some equipment to Uzbekistan — it is using the Northern Distribution Network to transport its men and materiel out. India will also be holding its own trilateral meeting on Afghanistan on Tuesday. Senior officials from India, Afghanistan and the US will meet to coordinate activities in Afghanistan, an exercise that has assumed more importance, thanks to the impending drawdown of US troops from that country. The first meeting of the trilateral took place on the sidelines of the UNGA last September. It is also predicated on the continuing activities in Afghanistan by India and the US after 2014. In fact, the Afghan government has asked India to intensify its activities inside Afghanistan even after the US withdrawal. There is growing wariness within India about the apparent consonance of interests between UK and Pakistan. India believes that the UK may be helping Pakistan achieve its core interest — of facilitating a Taliban return in Afghanistan and a return to the strategic comfort of the 1990s. Pakistan is not likely to release the Taliban leaders without important concessions to their core interests. Pandering to these could end up seriously destabilizing Afghanistan as well as threatening Indian security interests. Indian officials said they did not seriously believe that the UK would want to undermine India: hence, New Delhi would seek greater clarity from the British leadership regarding their intentions. British officials insist India had been kept in the loop at every step of the way — from a phone call by the British foreign secretary after the trilateral meeting to regular official interaction between the foreign offices.

President Zardari orders Balochistan governor for Hazaras security

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the Saturday's bomb blast targeting Hazara Community in Quetta and ordered Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi to adopt all necessary measures to ensure provision of security to the Hazaras. President Zardari telephoned Magsi after the deadly bomb explosion, got himself apprised on the situation and ordered the latter to himself monitor the relief operation. The President also ordered the law enforcement agencies to provide all possible help to the Hazara Community.

Bomb kills 64 in Pakistan's Quetta

Sixty-four people including school children died on Saturday in a bomb attack carried out by extremists from Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority, police said. A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility for the bomb in Quetta, which caused casualties in the town's main bazaar, a school and a computer center. Police said most of the victims were Shi'ites. Burned school bags and books were strewn around. "The explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device fitted to a motorcycle," said Wazir Khan Nasir, deputy inspector general of police in Quetta. "This is a continuation of terrorism against Shi'ites." "I saw many bodies of women and children," said an eyewitness at a hospital. "At least a dozen people were burned to death by the blast." Most Western intelligence agencies have regarded the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as the gravest threat to nuclear-armed Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally. But Pakistani law enforcement officials say Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has become a formidable force.
Last month the group said it carried out a bombing in Quetta that killed nearly 100 people, one of Pakistan's worst sectarian attacks. Thousands of Shi'ites protested in several cities after that attack. Pakistani intelligence officials say extremist groups, led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have escalated their bombings and shootings of Shi'ites to trigger violence that would pave the way for a Sunni theocracy in U.S.-allied Pakistan. More than 400 Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan last year, many by hitmen or bombs, and the perpetrators are almost never caught. Some hardline Shi'ite groups have hit back by killing Sunni clerics. The growing sectarian violence has hurt the credibility of the government, which has already faced criticism ahead of elections due in May for its inability to tackle corruption and economic stagnation. The schism between Sunnis and Shi'ites developed after the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 when his followers could not agree on a successor. Emotions over the issue are highly potent even today, pushing some countries, including Iraq five years ago, to the brink of civil war. Pakistan is nowhere near that stage but officials worry that Sunni extremist groups have succeeded in dramatically ratcheting up tensions and provoking revenge attacks in their bid to destabilize the country.

Iran, Pakistan to sign gas pipeline agreement

Iran and Pakistan are set to sign an agreement on the construction of a multi-billion-dollar natural gas pipeline between the two Asian countries. Pakistan’s public sector firm Interstate Gas Systems and Tehran-based Tadbir Energy Development Group will sign the contract in Islamabad on Friday, the English-language Pak Tribune reported. Adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister on Petroleum and Natural Resources Asim Hussain said on Thursday that the Iranian company would complete the process of constructing the pipeline in 15 months. Pakistani firms Frontier Works Organization (FWO), Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) and Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) will also take part in the construction of the gas pipeline. Tadbir Energy Development Group will reportedly undertake all engineering procurement and construction work for the first segment of the project, which starts from the Iran-Pakistan border and costs around USD250 million. The Iranian firm will also carry out the second segment of the project, and extend the financing later to USD500 million. The remaining amount is expected to be generated through Pakistan’s Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC). The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, projected to cost USD1.2-1.5 billion, would enable the export of 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan on a daily basis. Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil.

Pakistan: Religious persecution: Hundreds protest Shia killings

The Express Tribune
The Imamia Coordination Council (ICC) has asked the government to constitute an independent anti-terrorism cell headed by the Peshawar corps commander to take necessary action against terrorist networks. The declaration was passed in a protest on Friday against sectarian killings. It was endorsed by leaders of Shia representative organisations. The ICC rally started from Kucha Risaldar, passed through Qissa Khwani, and then to Khyber Bazaar where it took the shape of a public gathering. Participants carried pictures of victims of target killings and placards inscribed with inter-religious harmony slogans, condemning sectarian attacks in the country. Hundreds of men, women and children from Peshawar took part. The protest aimed to draw the authorities’ attention to the recent spike in killings in the city. According to the Millat-e-Jafria, 90 people belonging to Shia families have been killed over a fortnight. Since January, two prominent doctors and a lawyer have been assassinated in Peshawar, while Additional Sessions Judge Ihtisham Ali survived a targeted attack, which injured him severely. “We ask the government and law enforcement agencies to protect our elders, children and women from being targeted and demand those involved in such heinous crimes be brought to justice,” said Muzafar Ali Akhunzada, a member of the Imamia Jirga at the rally. A meeting of representative Shia organisations will be called in the city soon, Akhunzada told The Express Tribune. At this meeting, a collective decision will be taken on the future course of action in light of escalated violence. Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen’s Maulana Irshad Khalili, former senator Maulana Syed Muhammad Jawad and Maulana Nazir Hussain also spoke on the occasion. They asked security agencies to plug the flow of funds from foreign states to militant groups which instigate sectarian violence. They demanded compensation for the families of all civilians killed in terrorist incidents – akin to the compensation for families of slain armed forces and police personnel.

World leaders asked to stop atrocities against Hazaras

Daily Times
BY: Dr Saleem Javed
It is alleged that the intelligence services, the Inter-Services Intelligence, sections of which have a history of involvement with extremist forces, have links in some ways to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
At least 271 renowned poets from 89 countries have written an open letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and President of the United States Barack Obama demanding an end to Hazara genocide in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The signatories are mostly national and international award winners including Austrian Nobel laureate, Elfriede Jelinek, French novelist Nancy Louise Huston, Wikileaks former spokesperson, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Beyond Margins Award winner, Amiri Baraka of USA, New Zeeland national Poet, Vincent O’Sullivan and President of International Poetry Festival, Gaston Bellemare. The letter published on February 07, 2013 reads, “As recently as Thursday, January 10, 2013, more than one hundred Hazara were killed in an organised terrorist attack on the city of Quetta, Pakistan. In the past few years, more than a thousand Hazaras were killed in similar attacks in Pakistan.” The poets have demanded the world leaders to “properly insure the security and safety of the Hazara people and culture” and to exert “diplomatic pressure on both the Afghan and Pakistani governments to immediately cease acts of discrimination against the Hazara.” Although an absolute minority in Pakistan, the Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan after Pashtuns and Tajiks. However, they have suffered centuries of persecution and prejudice at the hands of Afghan rulers, and recently massacred and apostatised by the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. “In August 1998, the Taliban killed more than ten thousand Hazaras in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif,” the letter elaborates further. Kamran Mir Hazar, a Hazara poet based in Norway, who has crafted the letter, believes that “the stories and the plight of Hazaras become unforgettable once they are embedded in the world literature.” In the poet’s words, “The poets are away from filthy political games and express themselves independently, which gives credibility to the campaign contrary to the political statements.” The letter has been translated in a number of major languages in order to get worldwide attention. “We are committed to raising the voice for the voiceless and persecuted community through literature, which is quite long lasting”, Kamran added. President Asif Ali Zardari’s UK visit this year also coincided with an adjournment debate in the House of Commons about atrocities committed against the Hazaras in Pakistan. While British Prime Minister, David Cameroon was hosting Afghan and Pakistani presidents to talk about peace, a number of British parliamentarians including the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Alistair Burt, were holding a debate in the House of Commons on February 04, 2013. MP Labour John Denham in his opening remarks mentioned the British Hazara community’s efforts in organising a lobby of parliament during the Holocaust Memorial Day. “That event asks us all each year to be aware that genocidal persecution on religious and ethnic grounds is not simply an appalling past event but an ever-present danger that we have to be aware of. The persecution of the Hazara community, in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan, is undoubtedly persecution for religious and ethnic reasons — it bears those strong hallmarks — and that is the issue I want to raise today”, he added. Giving an account of the persecution faced by the ethno-sectarian minority in Pakistan John said, “The killings started in 1999. Since then, more than 1,000 Hazaras have been killed in Quetta, 3,000 or more have been injured, and 55,000 or so have been forced to flee to Europe or Australia. All of those came from a population of between 500,000 and 600,000.” While explaining the reasons of expressing specific concerns over this particular issue despite reports of sectarian killings across Pakistan, the MP said, “I understand that the Hazaras of Quetta are 33 times more likely to be killed by political violence than members of the wider Shi’a community in Pakistan. That constitutes a focus on a particular religious and ethnic group.” “Hazara students in Quetta have dropped out of university, following attacks on student transport. Hazara people have also faced difficulty in accessing civil service jobs. As has already been pointed out, however, not a single terrorist has yet been prosecuted. On the rare occasions when individuals have been arrested, they have been released. The provincial governor has been replaced, but little action seems to have been taken as yet”, he further added. John was of the view that the failure of the Pakistan authorities to safeguard the Hazara community is surely beyond doubt, but concerns remain about a much more sinister involvement. It is alleged that the intelligence services, the Inter-Services Intelligence, sections of which have a history of involvement with extremist forces, have links in some ways to the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi. “I want to put it on record that I do not know whether such links are documented or what the strength of the evidence is, but the concerns about those potential connections are widely shared among those I have spoken to”, John claimed. Nodding to Denham’s speech Fiona Mactaggart of the Labour Party demanded a “proper judicial inquiry to expose what is happening and to call the Government of Pakistan to account.” The British parliamentarians asked Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that “the plight of the Hazaras in Quetta should be explicitly raised when the conditions of aid to Pakistan are discussed.” “A decade ago, there were 300 students at the main university in Quetta. After all the death threats and the persecutions, there are not any today. About 80 percent of Hazara businesses have either had to be sold or closed down. There are 3,000 orphans or children living in poverty because the main breadwinner has been killed”, Conservative MP Iain Stewart added. Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Alistair Burt while responding to the parliamentarians’ demands reminded Pakistan of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s promises with quotes from his speech in the first constituent assembly. Jinnah said that there should be “no discrimination between one caste or creed and another” for Pakistan is founded with the “fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.” Although Pakistan has yet to fulfil Jinnah’s dream of a nation made up of “equal citizens of one state.” The Minister, however, appreciated President Zardari’s public acknowledgement about the problems faced by Pakistan’s minorities and promises that his government would work to end the discriminations. The minister ended his speech by reminding Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, of her promises made at the universal periodic review of Pakistan in Geneva in October 2012. “As the House has made clear this evening, how the Hazara community and its issues are treated will form part of the judgment on how Pakistan is responding to the challenges it is rightly setting itself.”

Bomb kills 15 in southwest Pakistan

Associated Press
Pakistani police say a bombing at a vegetable market has killed 15 people and wounded 50 others in the country's southwest. Senior police officer Wazir Khan Nasir said the bomb was detonated by remote control in a Shiite Muslim-dominated residential area of Quetta. Women and children were among the victims, he said, adding that the death toll could rise. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, where the Shiite minority has been attacked several times in recent months. Baluch nationalist groups are fighting an insurgency there to try to gain a greater share of income from the province's gas and mineral resources. Islamic militants and the banned sectarian group Lashker-e-Jhangvi are also active in the province.