Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pakistan: ''The military has the answer''

The entire country is in mourning over the killing of over 80 innocent Hazara Shias on Saturday in Quetta. Angry protests are being held across the country demanding the arrest of the accused through a targeted operation. The genocide of the Hazara Shia has even broken the silence of leaders like Imran Khan, billed as soft on Islamist-cum-terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Terming the outfit un-Islamic, Imran has demanded of the government to arrest the culprits. The Supreme Court (SC) in its suo motu notice of the killings has asked the government to crack down on the group claiming responsibility. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has criticised the failure of the government to take action against LeJ so far. The atrocity in Quetta is not new. The group claiming responsibility is not new either. The situation, where the relatives are sitting with the corpses of their dead, refusing to bury them unless the culprits are punished, is a repetition of the Alamdar Road incident when a twin blast killed even more Hazara Shias then as on Kirani Road now. The promise held out by the government to take control of the situation is also not new. Politicians blaming the intelligence agencies and vice versa is a time tested technique to shy away from accepting responsibility. The problem is not that difficult to comprehend. The culprits have been admitting their claim of killing Hazara Shias and are living among us freely. Malik Ishaq, the leader of the LeJ, moves around without fear of retribution. Those who say that Quetta should be handed over to the military are perhaps naive enough not to know that it is already the military calling the shots there through the Frontier Corps (FC). Nothing, not even a leaf can stir without the consent of the military in Balochistan. The FC having been given police powers after Governor’s rule was imposed, has clearly failed to deliver anything positive. This is the very force responsible for the brutal elimination of nationalists in the province; an accusation proved beyond an iota of doubt by even the SC. This being the lay of the land, why is the military not taking the onus? Why is it silent, seeing the government taking all the heat of the protest staged across the country over the repeated killing of Hazara Shias in Quetta? Even if the entire police force were removed, as the Inspector General of Balochistan is replaced along with other officers, Quetta would still reverberate with death tolls, because of trying to solve the problem in the wrong way. It is tantamount to helping the FC evade its responsibilities. The removal of the incompetent previous government of Balochistan after the Alamdar Road massacre last month has brought little if any change in the government’s inability to control the deteriorating situation in Quetta. The dark night has already descended on the Hazara. The message could not have been clearer. Eight hundred kilograms of explosive was used, making Saturday’s bombing the biggest attack in Quetta’s history. If this is not enough, what are we waiting for before getting down to the business of purging this country of the jihadi monsters we used in yesteryears as proxies? Who can know how best to handle its creation than the creator? It is the military, and none else, who can suppress this jihadi phenomenon. Thanks to our negligence or complacency, the extremists are equipped with the latest weaponry. The silence in certain quarters is feeding into the conspiracy theory that things are being allowed deliberately to deteriorate. Are we into some sort of systematic eradication of minorities in the country, more so Shias? This is what the killing of Shias in Karachi and Lahore too depicts. As far as Balochistan is concerned, the military establishment first, and then the government, owes an explanation to the people of the country.

Documents show Britain sold arms to Sri Lanka while expressing shock over human rights violations

While David Cameron faces awkward questions in India over bribe-tained British-built helicopters, the prime minister is in a fresh storm over another set of defence deals involving Lanka's war on Tamils. Government records, revealed by activists in London, show that UK has been supplying weapons - both small and large, worth "millions of pounds" to the Sri Lankan government even though Britain's foreign office (FO) has in the recent past expressed concern over human rights violations by the island nation. Britain's foreign office calls Sri Lanka "a country of concern" with questionable human rights records. However the UK based NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has sent documents to TOI showing that between July and September 2012, Cameron's government approved export licences on military items to Sri Lanka worth over £3 million. Nearly £2m of the sales were in the category "ML1" label denoting small arms. In total, the UK government approved the sale of 600 assault rifles, 650 rifles, 100 pistols and 50 combat shotguns. The sale also included £330,000-worth of ammunition and £655,000 in body armour. A consignment of arms worth £1.16 million (pistols, assault rifles and combat shot guns) was sent to Sri Lanka on August 21, 2012, body armour and rifles worth £ 505,000 sent on August 22, direct viewing imaging equipments and small arms worth £699,000 on July 19 and ammunition for small arms worth £578,000 on August 6. A consignment of assault rifles and body armour was sent from UK to Sri Lanka on September 20 worth £50,000 while on August 24, another consignment worth £60,000 which included military assault rifles was shipped to Sri Lanka. Kaye Stearman from the CAAT told TOI, "There were no licence refusals in these months, despite concerns being raised about human rights in Sri Lanka. The total amount is a large increase, given that from the beginning of 2008 until June 2012 the value of export licences to Sri Lanka amount to £12 million. A note in the government data says that some of these weapons were to be used in anti-piracy operations." "We're told that the arms industry is essential for jobs and the economy. In the UK, the government uses grossly inflated and out of date jobs figures. We're told that we need to export arms for our national security. Yet the UK sold weapons to Argentina weeks before the Falklands War. It sold arms to Saddam Hussein months before the First Gulf War. It actively courted Gaddafi weeks before going to war with him last year," the group said.

Why do Islamists hate Valentine’s Day?

From Egypt with Love
By Nervana Mahmoud
“Valentine’s Day represents for the Christians, a celebration of adultery and prostitution, and those who go out on this day are prostitutes.” That is how Abu Islam, a radical Egyptian preacher has described Valentine’s Day. He took the hatred that many radicals share for this day to brand it with a new label and link it to Christianity, a faith that Muslims acknowledge and respect. It is easy to dismiss Abu Islam as a marginal extremist whom none should take seriously, but I think we should take a look closer at his case as it is a perfect example of the flaws and the dangers of literal Islamism. I still remember the remarks made by the Egyptian thinker, Mustafa Mahmoud, about love and Islam. He noticed that love was only mentioned once in the Quran as part of the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh’s wife, who tried to seduce him. Within that context, love had a negative connotation; it reflected lust, unlawful passion and adultery. Mahmoud compared that story with the Quranic description of marriage, particularly verse 21 from Al-Rom Soura, as a relationship that is based on “mawada and rahma”. Though rahma can be easily translated as “compassion”, many wrongly translate mawada as “love”. Well, simply put, it isn’t. The best way to describe mawada is “a semi-platonic subtler form of love that is more controlled and less passionate”. Mahmoud was not alone in his analysis of the holy book of Islam. Many literalistic scholars have gone even further to advocate that love is not what Muslims should aspire to achieve within marriage but that “mawada” is the desired goal. They based their conclusion on the maqasid (goals) of Shari’a. As I have written before, the fundamental goal of Shari’a is to preserve the five essential elements of Islamic society: religion, life, intellect, lineage, and property. Those scholars believe that protecting the intellect requires not just the banning of alcohol but also the banning of any emotional imbalance that prevents rational thinking. Therefore, love and passion, in their view, falls into that category. No wonder they despise Valentine’s Day and view it as a holiday advocating adultery and decadence. The problem with literal Islamism is twofold. First, it involves an inappropriate interpretation of the Quran: they read too much into verses that simply tell a story and they extrapolate its narrative concepts into wider, often unrelated subjects. Second, such an interpretation creates an inaccurate diagnosis of social problems, as many of those scholars wrongly link sexual violence, rape, adultery and secret marriage to an “imported” Western phenomenon like Valentine’s Day, romantic movies and liberalism in general. Abu Islam has gone even further; like many radicals with whom I have spoken in the past, it seems that he looks at the main Christian belief that “God is love” and makes an unfounded leap to link Christianity with Valentine’s Day. Of course, they spice things up with their stereotype of Western women as wanting to be exploited. Their twisted views overlook the core issues behind the dysfunctional moral code that currently plagues Muslim societies, issues such as economic problems, corruption, bad education and a lack of role models are not what Abu Islam likes to reflect upon, he would rather play the easy game of blaming the West. Not to mention, those radicals ignore the simple fact that nowhere in the Quran has God stated that passionate love is forbidden; it was only mentioned when those feelings developed into passion and caused the actors to get carried away in actions like affairs and adultery. Only then did love become un-Islamic. In other words, this teaching is about controlling the feelings rather than banning them. Also, their favourite prescriptions will not solve the problem but only compound it. Lust will not disappear when segregation is imposed; the children of literalism will become weak, insecure adults who may not be able to exercise self-control and may grab every opportunity to chase after their forbidden fantasies. Banning romance is as impossible as banning breathing, and the Islamic republic of Iran is living proof. As reported by The Economist: “Despite the government’s best efforts, the romantic holiday [Valentine’s Day] has, in recent years, found a place in the hearts of many Iranians.” However, it is not just Valentine’s Day; a visit to the tomb of the great poet Hafez in Shiraz, the poetic capital of Persia, was enough to prove to me that no one can ban emotions. There was something deeply touching, even inspiring, about the many Iranian couples who visited the tomb seeking blessing for a life of love and togetherness, according to Iranian traditions. For me, it was a magical scene, although it would probably elicit an angry shrug from many fundamental Islamists. Romance was always alive in Egypt in an honourable way that preserved Islamic dignity and traditions. The best example of this is the legendary Om Kalthoum; she stood, even in her seventies, gracefully singing passionate love songs while a mixed crowd of women and men listened in awe. While she was respected by many religious scholars, others despised and bitterly attacked her. One such detractor was Sheikh Kishk, who used to sarcastically denigrate and dismiss her as a silly old woman. Sadly, while Kishk was a minority in the 60s, the Muslim world is currently full of radicals who have fallen into the deep end with their obscene views. For the record, I found Valentine’s Day to be a meaningless day that neither reflects nor advocates true love. Nonetheless, I see banning it as an even sillier, futile exercise that only reflects the shallowness of those who advocate it. Romance has lost its way in our country because we have lost our comfort zone and were pushed to the edge of insanity by the chronic decline of our society. The court order against Abu Islam was a perfect decision, but it will not make his views disappear. Unless we regain our empathy, rationalism and values as true Muslims who practice religion with an equal balance of faith and rituals, body and soul, and materialism and feeling, the like of Abu Islam would be irrelevant. And, yes, it is true, God is love, just ask Rumi.

In Pakistan, there's no answer to terror

Kamila Shamsie
Pakistan's government and military alike are silent on who is promoting the murder of Shias in Baluchistan
On Monday, in Karachi, I stayed at home while protesters took to the streets in an attempt to rouse Pakistan into action against the continuing extermination of Shia Muslims. On Saturday in Quetta a bomb had exploded in a busy market, killing 84 people; two days later, amid sit-ins and protests in different parts of the country in response to the attack, a Shia doctor and his school-age son were shot and killed in Lahore. My reasons for staying away from the protests were those of a coward: I worried that they might be targeted. At the end of the day there was a bomb blast near the site of one of the sit-ins, though luckily it was a timed device that went off an hour after the protesters had dispersed, and no one was harmed. Most of the time I stayed indoors, following via Twitter and text messages the movements of friends who were trying to leave Karachi on scheduled flights only to find the routes blocked by protesters. As I discovered when I finally ventured out in the evening, the roadblocks of the day were still in place, cutting off all access to Bilawal House, the Karachi home of President Zardari, and preventing protesters from approaching it, as planned, to stage a sit-in. It's symbolic, really – Shias are murdered and no one who wants to protest can get anywhere near the president, whose silence can be heard well past the roadblocks. The last time a bomb targeted Shias in Quetta, as recently as January, the mourners refused to bury their dead until the government heard their demands and brought "governor's rule" to the province. The logic there was that the civilian government had failed to take any action against the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) who had claimed responsibility for the bombing, so someone else – with muscle and firepower – must be put in charge. Protests and sit-ins of solidarity sprung up around the country and when governor's rule was brought about, and the mourners finally buried their dead, there were many who hailed it as a triumph of civil society, a rare instance of protests bringing about change. But no meaningful change has resulted, and on Saturday a truck laden with explosives was able to pass through multiple security checkpoints in Quetta. No one in a position of authority has tried to explain how such a thing could happen. So what must the mourners demand this time, as again they sit with the coffins of their dead, refusing to bury them? Some say the answer lies in military rule for Baluchistan. Others point to long-alleged links between sections of the military and the LeJ to rubbish such a proposition; still others say no one will act against the militants because everyone is terrified of finding themselves in the line of fire. No one seriously believes that the civilian government has any ties to the murderers, but their fear of taking on the militants was evident in the statement of Akbar Hussain Durrani, the home secretary of Baluchistan, two days after the Quetta attack: "We have certain clues about terrorists involved in past attacks and targeted killings which I cannot disclose at the moment but we are working on them." This, after the LeJ had claimed responsibility. In contrast, the centrist PTI's chief Imran Khan held a press conference which drew praise, even from critics who have taken to calling him Taliban Khan, for actually naming the LeJ. That the ruling PPP party and the largest opposition, the PML(N), cannot begin to utter those three letters demonstrates how afraid they are. It all felt very different in Karachi for a brief moment over the weekend, during the Karachi Literature Festival – thousands of people walked, free of charge, through the doorways of the city's iconic Beach Luxury hotel to buy books and listen to writers and human rights activists and journalists. But, as time went on, the Quetta bomb blast of the previous day found its way explicitly or implicitly into many of the sessions. Arif Hasan, an urban planner and teacher, said in a discussion of the violence: "The ethnic divide is understandable; it is linked to land. The religious divide is not understandable. It is being deliberately promoted." By whom, and for what? Everyone in Pakistan has their theories: it is the deal the intelligence agencies have made with militants in exchange for support in Kashmir; it's an attempt to derail forthcoming elections; it's linked to the army's struggle against Baluch nationalists; it's "the foreign hand" causing instability; it's the Saudi influence; and on and on. But what will it take for the civilian government and – more importantly, the military – to do what is necessary to make it stop? This is the question that makes Pakistanis, uncharacteristically, fall silent.

Pakistan to launch operation to help bring end to Shias’ killing

President Obama lashes out against Republicans over refusal to raise taxes

Obama is pushing Republicans to avoid the so-called sequester by accepting a combination of targeted spending cuts and increased tax revenue. But the GOP says further tax hikes are not an option.
Staking out his ground ahead of a fiscal deadline, President Barack Obama lashed out against Republicans, saying they are unwilling to raise taxes to reduce deficits and warning that the jobs of essential government workers, from teachers to emergency responders, are on the line. Obama spoke as a March 1 deadline for automatic across-the-board spending cuts approached and with Republicans and Democrats in an apparent stalemate over how to avoid them. Obama cautioned that if the $85 billion in immediate cuts — known as the sequester — occur, the full range of government would feel the effects. Among those he listed: furloughed FBI agents, reductions in spending for communities to pay police and fire personnel and teachers, and decreased ability to respond to threats around the world. He said the consequences would be felt across the economy. "People will lose their jobs," he said. "The unemployment rate might tick up again." "So far at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or the biggest corporations," Obama said. "So the burden is all on the first responders, or seniors or middle class families." House Republicans have proposed an alternative to the immediate cuts, targeting some spending and extending some of the reductions over a longer period of time. They also have said they are willing to undertake changes in the tax code and eliminate loopholes and tax subsidies. But they have said they would overhaul the tax system to reduce rates, not to raise revenue. Obama's remarks came a day after he returned to Washington from a three-day golfing weekend in Florida. Congress is not in session this week, meaning no votes will occur before next week and complicating the ability to negotiate any short-term resolution. Obama said the anticipated cuts were already having an effect, noting that the Navy had already delayed the deployment of a carrier to the Persian Gulf. "Changes like this — not well thought through, not phased in properly — changes like this effect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world," he said. Obama wants to offset the immediate spending cuts, known as a sequestration in budget language, through a combination of targeted spending cuts and increased tax revenue. The White House is backing a proposal unveiled last week by Senate Democrats that is in line with the president's principles. But that plan has met an icy reception among Republicans, who oppose raising taxes to offset the cuts. GOP leaders say the president got the tax increases he wanted at the beginning of the year when Congress agreed to raise taxes on family income above $450,000 a year. Obama called on congressional Republicans to compromise and accept the Senate Democrats' proposal. The Democrats propose to generate revenue by plugging some tax loopholes. Those include tax breaks for the oil and natural gas industry and businesses that have sent jobs overseas, and by taxing millionaires at a rate of at least 30 percent. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Ohio Republican agrees the sequester is a bad way to reduce spending, but put the onus for averting the cuts on Democrats. "A solution now requires the Senate — controlled by the president's party — to finally pass a plan of their own," spokesman Brendan Buck said. Meanwhile, a bipartisan proposal Tuesday by co-chairs of an influential deficit-reduction commission called for reducing the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, with much of the savings coming through health care reform, closing tax loopholes, a stingier adjustment of Social Security's cost of living increases and other measures. The proposal by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Democrat Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, calls for about one quarter of the savings to come from changes in health care programs and another quarter from revenue generated by tax changes. In their plan, Bowles and Simpson say the automatic cuts scheduled for March 1 are too steep and could set back the economy. "Sharp austerity could have the opposite effect by tempering the still fragile economic recovery. In order to protect the recovery, the sequester should be avoided and deficit reduction should be phased in gradually," they wrote. Some Republicans, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have advocated plugging loopholes, but as part of a discussion on a tax overhaul, not sequestration. "Loopholes are necessary for tax reform," Ryan said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." ''If you take them for spending, you're blocking tax reform and you're really not getting the deficit under control." The sequester was first set to begin taking effect on Jan. 1. But as part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, the White House and lawmakers agreed to push it off for two months in order to create space to work on a larger budget deal. With little progress on that front in recent weeks, Obama is calling for the sequester to be put off again, though it's unclear whether another delay would have any impact on the prospects for a broader budget agreement.

President Obama – a leader for our times

By Hilary Rosen
The era of presidents that Ed Rogers admires is over. And many of us are relieved that we will never again have a president who only has his visor set on making the rich richer in the hopes that some of the good fortune will trickle down to the rest of the population. In effect, the 1 percent are giving the rest of us their goodwill and not much of the fortune. President Obama has a rich legacy of accomplishments: Do they really need to be repeated, Ed? He brought the country back from the worst economic crisis since the Depression – a crisis created by President George W. Bush. He ended the misguided war in Iraq and has now pledged to do the same in Afghanistan. He has set the bar high on resurrecting important issues such as domestic manufacturing, principally by saving GM and Chrysler. And he has reinvigorated the domestic energy industry. Indeed, domestic oil production has increased, as has the investment in alternative fuels. He fundamentally reformed the banking system with new legislation and regulations to ensure against reckless behavior and abuse of consumer rights. He has made my life and the life of millions of other gay and lesbian Americans better by calling for an end to discrimination in all its forms. And perhaps his largest domestic achievement to date is that he, unlike the many who have tried before him, presided over a health care reform process that will now bring insurance to the 40 million people who were left out of the equation heretofore – people who work hard and pay their bills and their taxes but couldn’t afford insurance or didn’t have access to a large enough group. It is a large legacy. One to make any president proud. But I think that this president’s legacy will be more important than any single piece of domestic legislation. Obama has presided over a shift in politics – a shift in our country. It is a movement more toward economic justice and equality for all. And he has transformed the nation’s thinking on this, not by taking from the top but by empowering the middle. By making investments in education and infrastructure and energy and human rights, the president has chosen our next path as a nation. And it drives folks in the white, privileged GOP crazy. We will see a fundamental change over the next 50 years as our electorate becomes dominated by minorities and women. That shift alone will control the debate of the government’s role in our lives. That is so scary to Ed and his friends that they have to demonize President Obama to try to hold it off, but it is coming.

Tiger Woods: Golfing with President Obama was 'pretty cool'

Tiger Woods said Tuesday that his weekend golf outing with President Obama was "pretty cool" and that he and the president teamed up for a win against a pairing of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. "He's just a wonderful person to be around. And we won," Woods said at a press conference ahead of the Match Play Championship, according to Sports Illustrated. Woods also joked that Obama is "an avid golfer, and so am I."The comments by the 14-time major tournament champion were the first window into the Presidents' Day weekend golf trip in Florida. Reporters were not allowed on to the golf course during the game, drawing complaints from the White House press corps. "Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents' Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend," White House Correspondents Association president and Fox News reporter Ed Henry said in a statement. "There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency." Press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that he was "completely sympathetic" to complaints from reporters, having covered the White House himself for Time magazine. "I would note that, you know, and this is important to note given some of the coverage of this issue, that when it comes to solo news conferences, where the president of the United States stands up, and for 40 minutes, 50 minutes, or an hour, takes your questions, allowing reporters to go deep on issues, President Obama has given 35 of those. President Bush, his immediate predecessor gave 19," Carney said. "When it comes to interviews, the president's given 591 interviews since he took office. So, I think, that it is clear that we are making an effort to provide access, to make sure that the president is being questioned by reporters and anchors and others. And we'll continue to do that." Asked specifically about complaints lodged over his game with Woods this weekend, Carney argued the press office had provided enough access. "I mean, the president had some downtime, he was playing golf," Carney said. "You know, I understand that there was a desire to have access or a photograph of that, but the president was having [a vacation]."

Women journalists make a mark

Against all odds, feisty women journalists continue to be undeterred by threats of persecution Women journalists routinely face harassment and threats, including death threats while covering conflict zones everywhere, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet these feisty women continue to swim against the tide and create space for themselves in journalism. Farida Nekzad, 40, is a role model for many girls keen on pursuing journalism in Afghanistan today. She has faced threats of kidnapping, acid attacks and even an attempt to blow up her apartment ever since she set up her own news agency eight years ago in Kabul. Despite the fact that the Taliban routinely bombards her with threatening e-mails and phone calls warning her of horrendous consequences if she continues her work, Nekzad remains undeterred. In a country where women’s voices often go unheard, Waqt (which means time in the native Dari dialect), is one amongst the handful of women-dominated media outlets making its presence felt. Recalling the initial days of her difficult journey, Nekzad says, “It wasn’t easy. When the Taliban took over, my parents took refuge in Pakistan and I had to withdraw my name from Kabul University where I was studying journalism. I taught in private Pakistani schools, supervised basic education programmes for Afghan refugees and helped out with Afghan cultural groups in Peshawar. But I wanted to be a journalist. So I went to India and continued my education at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi. Later, I began to write as a freelancer for both Afghan and Pakistani publications.” When Nekzad returned to her country in late 2001, she was devastated with the destruction she saw everywhere. In 2004, her Kabul-based Pajhwok Afghan News first started publishing work in Dari, Pashto and English. “We were always stirring the political class with the kind of stories we carried, especially those concerning Afghan warlords and provincial power brokers. Features that commented on new restrictions being imposed on women and the resurgence of violence against women too created quite a furor. I remember one controversial story we published about a warlord exchanging his dog for a young girl, which raised a big hue and cry. Our reporters including me were many times asked to ‘beg for an apology’ or be killed.” Nekzad describes working as a journalist in her country as “walking on a sword”. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since late 2001, 19 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan — 18 while covering war. In Pakistan, 34 have lost their lives, seven while covering war. A report of the South Asia Media Monitor reveals that in 2012, 13 journalists lost their lives in Pakistan and two in Afghanistan. After the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, a large number of women journalists joined media outlets in the war-torn region even though it is still difficult for them to operate owing to deeply entrenched cultural and religious barriers. “We journalists often faced intimidation from militants, government-backed warlords, drug-smugglers and government officials who interfere with our coverage and dictate terms and conditions of our work...Being a woman one becomes very vulnerable as no steps have been taken for the safety and security of women journalists,” says Hela Haya, a journalist with a local radio station in Kandahar. The Pakistan Association of Television Journalists (ATJ) has only 50 women among its 700 members. Defying this statistic, women are now visible in the Pakistani media as anchors and talk show hosts on dozens of private radio and television channels, thanks to the burgeoning electronic media industry. There are approximately 3,200 journalists in Pakistan — 2,842 men and 362 women, making it a ratio of 5:1. Similarly, Afghanistan’s Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) reports that there are around 25 to 30 per cent women journalists and media workers among the 10,000-odd media persons working there. While the media is a growing industry in both countries, issues like sexual harassment and unequal pay packets are a matter of grave concern, even as the battle against severely limiting cultural norms and perceptions continues. Says Shamim Bano, a senior political reporter with The News, a English daily published from Karachi, “Most of the time Pakistani women journalists are not assigned any important beats like politics, economics, courts or even sports. We simply have to fight harder.” Young Pakistani journalists, Sabba, from Friday Times Weekly and Shumaisa Rehman from News One, are mentally prepared to accept the challenges that come with their profession. They state in unison, “We know that the odds are against us, but we have to fight to initiate a change.”

After Newtown, Gun Control Debate Spurs Political Action Across the Nation

Watch Gun Control Debate Spurs Political Action Across the Nation on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Deobandi leader of banned terrorist group Siph-e-Sahaba

Apparently Nawaz Sharif has agreed to forge a political alliance with Takfiri Deobandi militants of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba (ASWJ-LeJ) to enable further genocide of Shias, Sunni Barelvis, Ahmadis, moderate Deobandis and Wahhabis, Christians, Hindus etc.

Militancy and Radicalism in Punjab

by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa
This paper looks at militancy and radicalization in Punjab – North, Central and South – the three sub-regions of the largest province of Pakistan. The key argument of this study is that radicalization is a greater issue in Punjab than militancy primarily because militants tend to groom people for battles outside the country or the province. Thus, there is violence in the province but those figures are not commensurate with the actual amount of radicalization that takes place in Punjab. It is also observed that poverty is an important contributory factory. However, it’s the new capitalist and middle class that plays an important role, just as it had happened in Iran. The only difference being that Iran was more focused and ‘together’ in terms of religious ideology which Pakistan is not. It is the people with greater access to opportunities that bankroll and support the militant forces. The Punjabi society was always pre-radical in its psychological constitution. However, over time this attitude has enhanced. Now, radicalism is the future of this province. The business and trading community is latent-radical in its thinking and tends to use forces of radicalism to negotiate power and enhance its own strength. In fact, the militant and radical forces have emerged as the new power brokers that have sufficient clout, fire power and nuisance value to negotiate with the state. The jihadis and radical Islamists have replaced the traditional feudal in Punjab.
A copy of the full article (PDF) can be downloaded from the following link: 2013-02-04_SISA2_The_New_Frontiers_-_Ayesha_Siddiqa

Gen. John Allen, Recent Top Commander In Afghanistan, Is Retiring

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who led U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until earlier this month and had been on track to be the top NATO commander in Europe, is retiring from the military. The White House early Tuesday afternoon released a statement from President Obama that says, in part: "Today, I met with Gen. John Allen and accepted his request to retire from the military so that he can address health issues within his family. I told Gen. Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps. ... "John Allen is one of America's finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly. I wish him and his family the very best as they begin this new chapter, and we will carry forward the extraordinary work that Gen. Allen led in Afghanistan." The 59-year-old Allen, as we've reported, got indirectly ensnared in the scandal that brought down another general — then-CIA Director David Petraeus — last November.It became known that Allen had been in contact with Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite who turned to the FBI when she began receiving what she felt where threatening emails. Those emails turned out to be from Paula Broadwell, a biographer with whom Petraeus was having an extramarital affair. Shortly after the Petraeus scandal was revealed, it was reported that Allen had exchanged hundreds of emails with Kelley in recent years. As investigators looked at those messages, Allen's promotion to the NATO position was put on hold. Then, last month, he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
This statement from Allen was just sent to reporters:
"After 38 years in uniform, I have asked the president to accept my request to retire from active service, and he has graciously granted it. "The unwavering and fortifying support I received from my chain of command throughout my 19 months in command of ISAF made this inherently difficult decision easier. "The reasons for my decision are personal. I did not come to it lightly or quickly, but given the considerations behind it, I recognized in the end it was the only choice I could make. While I won't go into the details, my primary concern is for the health of my wife, who has sacrificed so much for so long. "For more than 35 years, my beloved Kathy has devotedly stood beside me and enabled me to serve my country. It is profoundly sobering to consider how much of that time I have spent away from her and our two precious daughters. It is now my turn to stand beside them, to be there for them when they need me most. "Having relinquished command of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan — the greatest honor of my life — and returned home to my beloved Virginia, it is now time to take care of my family."
Allen told The Washington Post Monday evening, the newspaper writes, that "he wants to focus on helping his wife, Kathy, cope with a combination of chronic health issues that include an autoimmune disorder. 'Right now, I've just got to get her well,' Allen said. 'It's time to take care of my family.' "

Pakistan Hands Management Of Strategic Port To China

Pakistan has awarded a contract to a Chinese company for the operations of its strategic Gwadar port. The signing ceremony was witnessed by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese Ambassador Liu Jian on February 18. Zardari said Gwadar will soon be a "hub of trade and commerce in the region." He said that China, which imports much of its oil from the Persian Gulf, could use the facility to provide supplies to the western Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet, which are closer to Gwadar than to any port in China. The port, completed in 2006 with the financial assistance of China, was initially operated by a Singaporean company. No reason was given for the cancelation of that contract. The move could cause concern in India, which is wary of China's growing strategic clout.

ISAF spokesman: 'We respect Karzai's decisions'

Afghanistan's security forces are scheduled to take the lead in the fight to combat in the spring. Despite all the difficulties, ISAF spokesman Günter Katz tells DW the country is on the right track.
DW: Brigadier General, at a meeting with his army, Afghan President Hamid Karzai instructed his security forces that, in future, even in an emergency, they should not use NATO air support. Is this a sign of distrust of NATO and ISAF?
Günter Katz: Firstly, Mr Karzai is the president of a sovereign state who gives instructions to his own security forces. I think that is a quite normal thing.
With this step he is trying to take greater consideration of deaths and injuries among the civilian population. This is also clearly in ISAF's interest. In that respect, our interests are the same. The commander of ISAF has made clear that we will act according to the president's wish and, in any case, continue to support the Afghan security forces.
Afghanistan itself has only a very weak functioning air force. Does that mean that the Afghan army must now fight against the Taliban and other rebels without air support?
The Afghan security forces would have to do that in the future, anyway, without the support of NATO or, more specifically, ISAF. As I have said, we will adhere to the president's wish. The Afghans have a basic competence as far as the air force is concerned. They also have a very well-trained artillery which can play a supporting role, meaning there are other options. The details of how we will implement the whole thing with our Afghan partners, and how we will proceed in the future, will be discussed in the coming days.
The Afghans have always said that their air force is very weak. In this case, NATO must not only provide training but also equip them with the necessary weaponry. To what extent is that actually happening?
We do that already and we are on the right track. Of course, we cannot forget that it is much more difficult to establish an air force in comparison with an army. We are dealing with a country here in which 75 percent of the population is illiterate. We need an air force in which everyone can read and write and in which the pilots and technicians know English, because the documentation is only available in English. Then we are faced with the challenge of training pilots, and also technicians. All of that takes a very long time. We anticipate that it will take until 2016 before the air force is fully operational. We will continue our efforts and we are already seeing the first successes: Afghan crews are now manning helicopters - the Afghans already have a small capacity for air transport so we are already heading in the right direction. We just have to accept that it takes longer with air force than with other forces.
US President Barack Obama last week announced that 34,000 troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. His Afghan counterpart Karzai has decreed, in future, his forces should not call upon NATO air support. Experts say that such messages only go to strengthen the rebels. How great is the danger that Afghanistan will slide into another civil war in 2014?
We cannot forget that what President Obama said had already been decided in the 2010 NATO summit as far as deadlines and strategy are concerned. The US can certainly withdraw 34,000 soldiers within the coming year. We know that the Afghan forces will, in principle, take the lead in the fight from spring onwards. The results that we see there are such that we can look forward to the future with satisfaction. Afghanistan will not slide into a civil war as it did after the fall of the Najibullah regime. We have 50 countries that, most recently at the NATO Summit in Chicago have said that they will remain involved in the country even beyond 2014. At the Afghanistan Conference in Tokyo in summer last year, we received clear commitments as far as funding is concerned. We are able to say that the international community will not leave the country on its own but will instead stand side by side with Afghanistan when it comes to ensuring a better, more secure future.
Brigadier General Günter Katz is the spokesman of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

QUETTA: No army, no retreat

In spite of repeated assurances by a six-member parliamentary delegation of the government of providing security to Hazara Shias in Quetta, mourners protesting with bodies of the Kirani Road bombing victims have refused to end their protest until the army takes charge of the city. Meanwhile, sit-in demonstrations and protests in all major cities and towns of the country paralysed routine life, halting railway traffic and disrupting flights at all major airports. Earlier, the parliamentary delegation comprising Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, PPP MNA Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, PPP MNA Nadeem Afzal Chan, PPP Senator Sughra Imam, PPP MNA Yasmeen Rehman and Minister for Political Affairs Maula Bakhsh Chandio reached an agreement with Shia leaders after which they called off the nationwide protests. Talking to reporters, Kaira said all valid demands of the Hazara community had been accepted and four culprits had been killed in the targeted operation conducted on Monday. He said detailed discussions were held on issues like community policing‚ compensation to the heirs of the martyrs‚ employment to their children and rehabilitation of affected families and maintenance of durable peace. He said the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen would nominate a three-member committee to remain in contact with the officials concerned to ensure following up of the understanding. ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY: The agreement was, however, rejected by the families of the victims who refused to bury their loved ones until their demand of army deployment was accepted. Despite heavy rain and cold weather, the protesting Hazaras continued with their sit-in protest, prompting Shias in other parts of the country to return to the roads in a show of solidarity with their community in Quetta. The protesters’ demand at all these places was the same: Call in the army in Quetta and take immediate action against the banned terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which in recent months has played havoc with Shias, mainly the peaceful Hazara community of Balochistan, through a string of attacks. The protesting Shias also refused to accept Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s assurance of a targeted operation against the terrorists and stuck to their demand of a mass scale army operation in the province. Thousands of Hazara Shias held their ground on Alamdar Road, where they have been camping for the last three days along with the bodies of at least 80 victims of Saturday’s deadly bombing. In the federal capital, hundreds of people blocked the Expressway, suspending traffic between twin cities and blocking route to the airport. In Lahore, Shia protesters blocked the entrance and exit roads of the Allama Iqbal International Airport and refused to allow people from entering or leaving the airport, and causing massive traffic jams on all access routes. The situation turned ugly when frustrated passengers and their families clashed with the protesters. Batons and punches were used freely by both sides but timely intervention by the police prevented serious damage. The Airport Security Force barricaded the entry and exit roads of the airport for security reasons while several international and local flights were cancelled. The protesting Shias refused to vacate the roads until their demand of army deployment in Quetta was accepted but after two hours of hectic negotiations they agreed to unblock one road for intending passengers. Another major sit-in was staged at Thokar Niaz Baig and all roads emerging from the area were closed for traffic until the filing of this report. Protests and sit-ins were also held in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and other big and small cities across the country. TERRORISTS KILLED, ARRESTED: Local officials in Quetta announced earlier on Tuesday that security forces had killed four men and arrested seven, including an alleged mastermind of Saturday’s bombing in an “ongoing” raid on the edge of the city. Police said another 172 people had been rounded up in the past two days, including the provincial chief of extremist Sunni outfit Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and they were now being questioned. In Lahore, intelligence agencies arrested the owner of Waris Chemicals in Lahore’s Akbari Mandi on the information of one Dad Muhammad, who was arrested in Quetta and is allegedly involved in the Kirani Road bombing. Intelligence sources told Pakistan Today in Lahore that Muhammad had bought 2,000 kilogrammes of Potassium and Phosphorous in the last two months from Waris Chemicals and the same material was used in the Quetta bombing, which is one of the biggest bombings in Pakistan.
In a related development, Prime Minster Ashraf ordered the transfer of Balochistan Police IG Tariq Omar Khatab and appointed Mushtaq Sukhaira in his stead. According to the spokesman, the decision had been made because Khatab had failed to control the law and order situation in the province.

Pakistan Announces Security Operation After Recent Bombing

The government announced a security operation against sectarian death squads in the western city of Quetta on Tuesday, four days after a sectarian bombing killed at least 89 people and led to unusually sharp criticism of the powerful military and its intelligence agencies. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf vowed to target the extremists behind Saturday’s bombing, which killed dozens of women and children, and was squarely targeted at a neighborhood in Quetta where Hazara, minority Shiites, are concentrated. On Tuesday evening, following talks with government officials, Hazara leaders called off countrywide protests that highlighted the failure of Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities to stem the rising tide of sectarian bloodshed. Grieving Hazaras, who had demonstrated in the streets of Quetta beside the coffins of bombing victims, agreed to abandon the symbolically powerful protest and bury their dead. But participants in the Quetta sit-in and other cities refused to end their protest, continuing to demand that soldiers be deployed in the city to provide protection to the Hazaras. Qamar Zaman Kaira, the Pakistani information minister, told reporters that targeted operations against militants started in Quetta overnight on Monday, resulting in the killing of four militants. At least 170 people were detained and a huge cache of weapons was recovered. Still, pressing questions remained about the government’s ability to crack down on sectarian extremists who, in Quetta as in other parts of the country, appear to operate with impunity. The target of the operation announced by Mr. Ashraf is presumed to be Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a notorious sectarian group that claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack as part of a decades-old violent campaign. Lashkar militants bomb and shoot Shiites, whom they believe to be Muslim heretics, across Pakistan, although in Baluchistan Province, which includes Quetta, they concentrate on Hazaras, who immigrated from Afghanistan over a century ago and whose members have distinctive Central Asian physical features. Mr. Ashraf fired the police chief of Baluchistan Province and replaced him with Mushtaq Sukhera, the former head of counterterrorism operations in Punjab Province. Unusually, though, the brunt of the criticism has focused on role of the military and its powerful intelligence agencies. In the Senate on Tuesday, Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari, accused some extremists in Baluchistan of having received “clandestine support” — a veiled reference to allegations from human rights groups that the security forces have turned a blind eye to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in return for the militants’ help in quelling a nationalist revolt in Baluchistan. Earlier, the governor of Baluchistan Province, Zulfikar Ali Magsi, who has been in charge of Baluchistan since the federal government dissolved the provincial administration last month, accused the intelligence services of being “too scared” or “too clueless” to chase down the extremists. Mr. Babar, pointedly noted that two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leaders, whom he named as Usman Kurd and Daood Badini, had mysteriously escaped jail in a military-controlled part of Quetta about four years ago. The military has strongly denied accusations of collusion with the killers, pleading that its forces are already thinly stretched across Baluchistan. Nonetheless, Pakistanis across the country have been become increasingly alarmed at the strength of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The group’s leader, Malik Ishaq, travels freely around Pakistan, making speeches and whipping up sectarian hatred. In Baluchistan, Lashkar operates freely from Mastung, a small town south of Quetta, from which most of the attacks are believed to emanate. Mr. Ashraf, meanwhile, sent a six-member delegation of lawmakers, led by Mr. Kaira, to hold talks with Hazara leaders in Quetta. In Lahore, a spokesman for the Majlis-e-Wahdat ul Muslimeen, a Shiite lobbying group, said the hand-over of Quetta from civilian to military control was a central demand of the protesters. “We want the army to maintain peace and stop the massacre of Shiites,” said the spokesman, Mazahar Shigri.

Pakistan's President, PM and Army chief hold meeting at Presidency

A high level meeting was held at the Presidency on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Balochistan, especially the Kirani road incident, attended by the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, DawnNews reported. During the meeting it was decided that stringent measures would be taken for the elimination of terrorism and the resumption of law and order. Army chief General Kayani briefed the President and Prime Minister on the overall situation of the country’s internal security.

Pakistan Reaches Out to Iran on Energy, Security

Pakistan is reaching out to its neighbor, Iran, for cooperation on energy and security, despite ongoing international attempts to isolate Tehran for its nuclear program. The latest talks between the two countries on a proposed gas pipeline that could aggravate Pakistani ties with the United States. In recent days, officials in Islamabad have had talks with their Tehran counterparts on the construction of a $1.5 billion gas pipeline from Iran that would help ease acute energy shortages in Pakistan. This week, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also signed a security deal between the two countries to tighten security along their borders. The agreements point to closer relations at a time when the United States and the international community have imposed stringent economic sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful. But, the West fears Iran is building nuclear weapon capability. The international sanctions affect companies doing business with Tehran, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rian Harris said. "We have made it clear to all of our interlocutors around the world that it is in their interests to avoid activities that may be prohibited by U.N. sanctions or sanctionable under U.S. law," he said. Harris said the United States believes there are alternative long-term energy solutions for Pakistan, such as a planned pipeline through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. She pointed out that Washington is funding large-scale hydropower and thermal energy projects in Pakistan to help meet the chronic shortages. The Iran-Pakistan pipeline has been under discussion for a decade, but the past weeks have seen delegations from Tehran arriving in Islamabad to finalize the deal. Local media reports say the negotiations are still stalled about gas prices and the financing of Pakistan's section of the line. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political science professor at Lahore University, says that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's efforts to complete the deal with Iran have more to do with election year politics than energy solutions. The government, which is facing elections in the coming months, has come under heavy criticism for its inability to end crippling energy shortages around the country. There are questions about whether Iran can guarantee supplies and fixed prices, said Rais, but also concerns about the political cost of such a deal. "How the Pakistani economy, which depends on International Monetary Fund and United States assistance, and also from European countries, how then is Pakistan going to cope with that? Therefore, this decision is very much controversial," he added. Rais said Pakistan's political and business power brokers have no desire to estrange the international community in favor of Iran.

Afghan forces arrest Pakistan Taliban commander

Prominent Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad has been arrested in eastern Afghanistan. Maulvi Faqir Mohammad was detained in Nangarhar province, close to the Pakistani border, officials say. In March 2012, he was demoted from being deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, but had since reportedly been reconciled with the movement. It is thought the dispute centred on whether the Pakistani Taliban should open negotiations with the government. The day after he was removed from his post, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad issued a statement saying he supported dialogue with the government if it could help make peace. He said his peace overtures towards the Pakistani government could be why he was ousted. He was, however, responsible for several attacks on Pakistani security forces from his base in the tribal region of Bajaur, bordering Afghanistan. There had been a reward of 15 million rupees ($153,000; £98,000) on his head. Correspondents say that his arrest could point to closer co-operation between the two countries in security operations.

Pakistan targets militants, Shiites end protest

Thousands of Shiite Muslims ended three days of protests in southwestern Pakistan on Tuesday after the government launched a paramilitary operation against militants responsible for a weekend bombing targeting the minority sect that killed 89 people. The protesters in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, began preparations to bury the bombing victims after Shiite leaders announced an end to the demonstration. Relatives had refused to bury their loved ones until the army took control of Quetta and launched a targeted operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the group that claimed responsibility for Saturday's bombing. Shiites have criticized police and paramilitary forces under control of the Interior Ministry in Quetta for failing to protect the minority sect, which comprises up to 20 percent of the country's population of 180 million. There was no indication the army would take control of the city. But the government announced that paramilitary forces began an operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militant groups Monday night. Four members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, including a senior commander, were killed in a shootout Tuesday, and over 170 other suspected militants were arrested, said Baluchistan's home secretary, Akbar Hussain Durrani. The government also replaced the top police officer in Baluchistan on Tuesday, said Fayaz Sumbal, deputy police chief in Quetta. Sumbal has also been ordered to replace the chief of police operations in Quetta, he said. "Our demands have been accepted," a top Shiite leader in Quetta, Amin Shaheedi, told reporters after holding talks with a government delegation sent from Islamabad. "We appeal to our people to go to their homes in a peaceful manner." It remains to be seen what impact the government's actions will have on the problem of sectarian violence in Quetta. Suspected militants are notoriously difficult to prosecute in Pakistan, and it's unclear if the operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others will be sustained. Radical Sunni militants have stepped up attacks against Shiites over the past year because they do not consider them to be real Muslims. Violence has been especially bad in Baluchistan province, which has the highest concentration of Shiites in the country. A double bombing at a billiards hall in January in Quetta killed 86 people. Pakistan has launched numerous military operations against militants in recent years, but the focus has been on the Pakistani Taliban, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the state that has killed thousands of people. Rights organizations have criticized the government for not doing enough to target militant groups attacking Shiites. They explain this apathy by pointing to past connections between the country's military and anti-Shiite militants, and also allege the sectarian groups are seen as less of a threat than the Taliban because they are not targeting the state. Political parties have also relied on banned sectarian groups to deliver votes in elections. The four Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants killed Tuesday in a suburb of Quetta included Shah Wali, a senior commander involved in attacking Shiites and police officials, said Durrani, the home secretary. Others included Abdul Wahab, a key planner and recruiter; Naeem Khan, a logistics expert who provided explosives; and Anwar Khan, a rank and file militant, said Durrani. Seven other Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants were arrested in the operation Tuesday, said Durrani. The more than 170 suspected militants arrested earlier included Haji Mohammed Rafiq, a prominent member of another Sunni extremist organization, Ahle Sunnat Waljamaat, said the home secretary. Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf first announced the operation in a statement issued by his office Tuesday that said it "aimed at eliminating those responsible for playing with lives of innocent civilians and restoring peace and security in Quetta." Last year was the bloodiest in history for Pakistan's Shiites, according to Human Rights Watch. Over 400 were killed in targeted attacks across the country, at least 125 of whom were died in Baluchistan. With two massive bombings targeting Shiites in as many months this year already, 2013 looks like it could be even worse. The government promised to take action against sectarian militants following protests in January against the billiards hall bombing. Shiites brought the bodies of the victims into the street at the time and refused to bury them unless the government took steps to protect them. After four days, Islamabad decided to dissolve the provincial government and put a federally-appointed governor in charge. The government said paramilitary forces would receive police powers and launch an operation against the militants behind the billiards hall attack. But officials refused to put the army in control of the city, as they have done this time around. Around 15,000 Shiites took to the streets to protest near the site of the recent attack Tuesday, before their leaders called an end to the demonstration. Others stayed beside the bodies of the bombing victims inside a nearby mosque. Some chanted "God is great." Others held placards that said "Stop killing Shiites." Shiite leaders made speeches to the crowd saying their demands had been accepted and urged them to disperse peacefully after the talks with the government delegation. They also urged Shiites in other parts of the country, such as Karachi and Islamabad, to end smaller protests held over the past few days.